Seasonal Around the Globe

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, by Adrian Wiedmer Production Ecology

Those who care about the environment usually strive to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, grown outdoors and harvested when ripe. But when is that exactly, and how big of an impact does transport have? A closer look reveals unexpected answers.

Our carbon footprint increases with every kilometre we travel, every light we switch on and every bite we eat. When it comes to kilometres or electricity, it is obvious how we can reduce our footprint. With food, things are not as straightforward.

Farming, processing and transport methods are all contributing factors. And supermarkets have it all: regional and imported, organic or conventional, shipped or flown in. Products that look similar are grouped together. But there is a massive difference in their carbon footprints.

Avocado Over Asparagus

Take asparagus, for example. One kilo of asparagus flown in from Peru generates 27 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents*. The same asparagus transported by ship generates 2.5 kg of carbon. This is better than the early asparagus from Europe in March, which is grown on heated fields and generates 5 kg of carbon! Asparagus from the fields is not available until the end of April at 1.5 kg carbon per kilo. Organic avocados transported from Peru by ship only amount to 1.4 kg of CO2.

There are similar examples with fruit. Strawberries in April, whether they grew in Thurgau or Valais, come to over 4 kg of CO2 per kilo – more than those from Morocco in February (3.4 kg of CO2). Only starting end of May do organic strawberries reach a good carbon footprint of 0.77 kg. However, even these strawberries are outdone by fresh mangoes from Burkina Faso which only amount to 0.66 kg of CO2 per kilo.

The Surprisingly Negligible Carbon Footprint of Transport

What makes sense from an environmental perspective isn’t always what we might expect. Unlike political issues, however, there is a scientific basis to the carbon footprint. We have therefore taken a close look at our products together with experts. The results may differ from other studies, but the key findings are clear: It is essential to grow produce outdoors and avoid air transport.

Surprisingly, long transport routes by ship and lorry have little impact on the carbon footprint. This presents an opportunity for small-scale family farmers and consumers throughout the world. Compared to foods that are animal-based, processed or not grown outdoors, fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables are sure to reduce our carbon footprint, any time of the year!

Saisonkalender 2021

The new gebana season calendar including all Swiss products.

However, it makes little sense to import fruits and vegetables from faraway countries in summer and autumn. This is harvest time in Europe, so the markets are already bursting with produce. During these months, gebana only receives European specialties, with the exception of coconuts.

After that, our range slowly expands in late autumn and winter. We import figs and dates directly after the harvest. After that, citrus fruit season begins in Greece. The fruits are harvested fresh all winter long and are an exemplary role model in terms of their carbon footprint: At 0.5 kg of carbon, they score nearly as well as organic apples from Switzerland (0.4 kg of carbon in January).

A Word About Luxury

Things get tougher for consumers towards the end of winter and all through spring until early summer, as they wait impatiently for the first regional fruits. But even fruits we think of as seasonal, like the local strawberries that appear in supermarkets as early as the beginning of April, are not sustainable. Their carbon footprint at this time is worse than that of tropical fruits transported by ship, such as our mangos or avocados, which we import from April on.

On the topic of CO2, we would be remiss if we did not mention our luxury item: pineapple. It is the only one of our products to come by air transport and therefore has a substantial carbon footprint of 9.9 kg per kilo. We ensure that the CO2 emissions from the sale of pineapple are compensated fivefold.

On our seasonal calendar, you can see when gebana products are in season. It is meant to help you manage your orders. In terms of sustainability, we will continually be updating the calendar so that we can offer the right combination of products from Europe and the rest of the world for every season.

*Equivalent, because in addition to CO2, the effects of methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases are taken into account.

Contents Matter More than Packaging

When you think about the environmental impact of our food, its production and transport, sooner or later you come to the question: What role does packaging play?

There is no simple answer to the question of the importance of packaging. We must consider the entire life cycle of packaging, understand its purpose and look at what the packaging contains. Because what's inside the packaging matters more than the packaging itself. Read more about this in our blog post "Contents Matter More than Packaging".

Online Shopping

With e-commerce, everything begins with you and your computer. Electricity is required to access the Internet. Your order then sets in motion a process that starts at the merchant’s warehouse. A truck drives off with many, many customer orders, including yours. In a distribution centre, your package is transferred to a smaller vehicle for delivery to your home and many others along the way.

Offline Shopping

You place an order with the intention of picking it up yourself, or make your purchase directly at the store. In both cases, the goods still need to be transported from a large warehouse to the pick-up station or store. Both options use more electricity than a warehouse, requiring more heating in winter or perhaps even cooling in summer. All the extra devices also require more electricity than a warehouse infrastructure. Finally, you have to collect your package at the pick-up station or store, either by bike, by public transport or, in the worst case, by car.

A rough idea of what all this means in terms of CO2 emissions is given in a graphic by the German Institute for Applied Ecology Unfortunately, the graph can only be found in a paper published by the institute (page 15). Organised as an association, this research institute has been involved in sustainable development strategies since the 1970s. Also of interest is the May 2019 article "How bad is e-commerce for the climate?" (only available in German) which addresses the chart in question.

As a general rule, online shopping is better if we don’t send back too many packages, whereas offline shopping makes more sense if businesses make investments in energy efficiency and we as consumers shop on foot or by bike.

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