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Snippets

Are suburban corporate campuses falling out of fashion? NRDC staff blog predicts an increase in smart growth.  Lonely Planet surveyed travelers to find a list of the top 20 walking cities.  Grist readers nominated 10 additional cities that didn’t make the original Lonely Planet list. A study commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations finds that roughly one third of the food produced for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted.

Assorted Links

An op-ed has some interesting math lessons for locavores.

Sanford, Maine implemented a trash-metering system and residents reduced trash thrown away by 50%.

The folks at Walk Score have released Transit Score, which ranks how well-served a location is by transit.

Virtual Water

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Virtual water (also referred to as embodied water) is the volume of fresh water used to produce a product at the location of production. This concept of virtual water applies to everything we use or buy, such as clothes, electronics, food, and building materials. For example, the average virtual water associated with 1 egg would be 53 gallons.

(For those familiar with energy issues, this is similar to embodied energy.)

The creator of the virtual water concept, Professor John Anthony Allan, was initially researching agricultural water issues in the Middle East and concluded that the region could survive with scarce water because it was importing large amounts of “virtual water” embedded in its food imports.

You can hear a podcast of Professor Allan’s seminar on virtual water here.

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

Curitiba Brazil’s Green Exchange

Curitiba Brazil has a number of innovative waste management programs. Follow this link to view a short video that features Curitiba’s Green Exchange Program. The program operates by exchanging fresh food for recyclable items that residents collect and bring to a transfer station.

Also see information here on the documentary A Convenient Truth, a film that chronicles how this typical South American city is transforming itself  through innovative, sustainable community initiatives.  Curitiba’s ideas and expertise are being exported to other cities around the world. I haven’t seen the doc yet, but it appears to be worth a look.

Foodshed

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This post is part of our definitions series on “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

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Essentially, a “foodshed” is a way to conceptualize the total system of food production from farm to table. This includes the various intermediate stages of processing, packaging, preparation and travel before a good reaches its final destination. Similar to a watershed (the system of rivers, streams and aquifers that define a regions’ water supply) one can discuss the impacts of factors such as pesticides, delivery systems and resource efficiency within a foodshed. However, unlike a watershed which is more or less constrained by local topography, a modern American foodshed is limited only by consumer choice and the behavior and/or regulation of industry and agriculture.

See the American Farmland Trust’s study on the San Francisco bay area’s foodshed

Related terms

Locavore: A person who strives to eat primarily locally sourced/produced/grown foods.

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture): A food supply model whereby individuals receive produce and goods directly from the farm that produces them. Consumers assume a portion of the farmer’s risk by buying subscriptions for a prescribed period of time. This allows farmers to effectively manage financial resources with less impact from weather fluctuations and other circumstantial losses. In return, subscribers benefit from receiving  a variety local, seasonal produce and sharing in high yields. Finally, because CSA’s tend to grow a wide range of foods for their subscribers, organic methods of soil management, including crop-rotation is often practiced.

See the Ecology Center’s list of bay area CSAs

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What exactly does “sustainability” mean? How about “green”, “eco” or “environmentally friendly”? The truth is that these terms are just vague enough to mean many different things to many different people. With the staggering array of “green” products, ‘lifestyles’ and concepts being promoted by marketers and environmentalists alike (as well as the necessary coining of new terms to match new ideas) our definition series aims to make sense of the rising tide of “eco-lingo” and technical terms.

Finding Data – The Water Intensity of Food

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Many of us have heard that we should eat locally grown food to reduce the energy needed to transport and preserve the food between the source and our table. Many of us have also heard that we should reduce our meat consumption to reduce the amount of land and other resources needed to support our diets and lifestyles. Another metric to consider is how much water is needed to produce different foods.

Based on values from the Water Footprint Network, I compiled a chart of how much water is needed to produce certain foods. This is obviously not an inclusive list of all foods, but gives an idea of the range of values for different kinds of foods. These values will also differ in different countries and regions. As noted by the director of the Water Footprint Network, Arjen Y. Hoekstra, “Water problems are often closely tied to the structure of the global economy. Many countries have significantly externalised their water footprint, importing water-intensive goods from elsewhere. This puts pressure on the water resources in the exporting regions, where too often mechanisms for wise water governance and conservation are lacking.”

In the table on the left, values are generally for liters per kilogram unless otherwise noted. In the table on the right, values are generally for gallons per pound unless otherwise noted.

You can calculate your own water footprint with this calculator for an estimate of which parts of your diet and lifestyle are most water intensive.