Local or global: A biophysical analysis of a regional food system

Meidad Kissinger, Cornelia Sussmann, Caitlin Dorward, Kent Mullinix

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Growing concern regarding environmental, social, economic and food quality outcomes of the modern global industrial food system as well as the implications of climate change on food security and food system sustainability have fomented interest in, and action to advance localized food systems. Environmental stewardship is an oft-touted benefit of food system localization. However, few studies have comparatively examined actual environmental benefits of local versus global supply systems and most focus on only one aspect (e.g., GHG emissions). The study reported here comparatively analyzes land, water, carbon and ecological footprints of a localized food supply and contemporary global food supply for the South-West British Columbia (Canada), bioregion (SWBC). The footprint family approach utilized allows measuring overall biophysical loads for the studied region. We quantified regional rates of reliance on imported biophysical services; measured the performances of specific food products grown locally in comparison with their imported counterparts; and identified those commodities that have better and worse local biophysical performances. For the SWBC bioregion, only 35% of the food consumed in the region is locally produced. Supplying the region's food demands requires 2 million hectares of land and 3 billion m3 of water, generating approximately 2.8 million tons of CO2e, with an eco-footprint of 2.5 million gha. Examining a large number of commodities grown and consumed in the bioregion revealed that only some commodities grown locally have absolute or significant biophysical advantages, while the rest have very little to no local advantage. Our analysis challenges the notion that local food systems are necessarily more environmentally sustainable from a biophysical resource use perspective and therefore may not represent the most compelling argument(s) for food system localization. We call for better and more comprehensive comparative analysis of existing and desired food systems as a mean to advance sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-533
Number of pages11
JournalRenewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Biophysical indicators
  • footprint family
  • local food systems
  • sustainability


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