Imported tropical fruit in Barcelona. Photo: Marta Piqueras.
The concept of food miles comes up fairly regularly here on TreeHugger and public awareness of how far much of the food we eat travels from farm to plate is increasing. While I’m a hearty supporter of relocalizing as much agriculture as is feasible, I accept the fact that since time immemorial and into the future a certain amount of food in any location will be imported.
As an aid to determining the best method to ship food based on cost, time in transit and environmental impact researchers in Germany have developed a new piece of software that allows you to calculate whether road, rail or water (no mention of air) is the optimum method.
Joachim Kochsiek of the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML describes how the software works:
Cost, Time and Enviro-Impact Calculated
The user enters the locations between which the goods are to be transported, as you would when using a route planner. The system calculates different variants to find the optimum solution that fits the specified criterion: costs, time or, in a future version, least environmental burden. It even factors in the time and costs for transshipment.
For each mode of transportation, the system adapts its calculation of costs and fuel consumption to the degree of capacity utilization. For example, the lower the number of wagons pulled by a locomotive, the higher the costs.
Software Won’t Guarantee Greener Shipping, But It Could Help
The current prototype of the software only includes time and cost calculations, but the next stage, and the one which really caught my eye, is to include the environment burden of each shipment method. Perhaps in the end, users of this software will still determine to undervalue the environmental burden of shipping food, but at least this software could allow for all the calculations to be made and compared at once.