Are local food chains more sustainable than global food chains? Considerations for Assessment

Gianluca Brunori, Francesca Galli, Dominique Barjolle, Rudolf van Broekhuizen, Luca Colombo, Mario Giampietro, James Kirwan, Tim Lang, Erik Mathijs, Damian Maye, Kees de Roest, Carin Rougoor, Jana Schwarz, Emilia Schmitt, Julie Smith, Zaklina Stojanovic, Talis Tisenkopfs, Jean Marc Touzard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

© 2016 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This paper summarizes the main findings of the GLAMUR project which starts with an apparently simple question: is "local" more sustainable than "global"? Sustainability assessment is framed within a post-normal science perspective, advocating the integration of public deliberation and scientific research. The assessment spans 39 local, intermediate and global supply chain case studies across different commodities and countries. Assessment criteria cover environmental, economic, social, health and ethical sustainability dimensions. A closer view of the food system demonstrates a highly dynamic local-global continuum where actors, while adapting to a changing environment, establish multiple relations and animate several chain configurations. The evidence suggests caution when comparing "local" and "global" chains, especially when using the outcomes of the comparison in decision-making. Supply chains are analytical constructs that necessarily-and arbitrarily-are confined by system boundaries, isolating a set of elements from an interconnected whole. Even consolidated approaches, such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), assess only a part of sustainability attributes, and the interpretation may be controversial. Many sustainability attributes are not yet measurable and "hard" methodologies need to be complemented by "soft" methodologies which are at least able to identify critical issues and trade-offs. Aware of these limitations, our research shows that comparing local and global chains, with the necessary caution, can help overcome a prioripositions that so far have characterized the debate between "localists" and "globalists". At firm level, comparison between "local" and "global" chains could be useful to identify best practices, benchmarks, critical points, and errors to avoid. As sustainability is not a status to achieve, but a never-ending process, comparison and deliberation can be the basis of a "reflexive governance" of food chains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
JournalSustainability
Volume8
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

Keywords

  • Assessment
  • Food supply chain
  • Global
  • Local
  • Post-normal science
  • Reflexive governance
  • Sustainability

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