Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Roya Sabri headshot

Lowering Carbon Emissions by Building Regional Food Systems

A partnership between two sustainability-driven companies is doing its part to reduce emissions while giving New York City’s local food systems a boost.
By Roya Sabri

Our food systems currently contribute about one-third of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. In endeavoring to lower emissions, we certainly can’t do away with food, but we can adapt. Greener methods of growing have been sprouting up over the years. Regenerative agriculture, for example, has been embraced by brands such as meat company Applegate and Danone, known for its dairy products. Through regenerative agriculture, farms and ranches restore their soils for healthier water systems and carbon sequestration. 

And then there’s regionalizing, which can tackle that 10 or so percent of the food system’s greenhouse gas emissions that come from transporting food. Regionalizing does not automatically guarantee sustainability, though. In Going Local, author Michael Shuman describes the process of creating a sustainable local economy as not, “walling off the outside world,” but “nurturing locally owned businesses which use local resources sustainably, employ local workers at decent wages and serve primarily local consumers. It means becoming more self sufficient and less dependent on imports. Control moves from the boardrooms of distant corporations and back into the community where it belongs.”

The business benefits of 'going local'

There are clearly bottom-line benefits to regionalizing. The pandemic has taught many businesses the importance of supply chain transparency and resilience. A post from the University of Birmingham affirms the value in cost, quality and time that a regional supply chain can afford a company, compared with a mainly globalized system of supply. And the region gains employment and economic value. In a report, Schuman explains that shifting 20 percent of food spending to local producers in Detroit would lead to an economic boost of half a billion dollars and 4,700 new jobs. 

New partnership strengthens regional food system in NYC

A recent partnership between two sustainability-driven companies is giving New York City’s local food system a boost. One of the partners, URB-E, provides an alternative for last-mile delivery using electric bikes and a containerized system that saves time and space in downtowns — increasing delivery efficiency by two to three times, according to the company. URB-E is delivering food from Square Roots, which has been using a cloud-connected system to grow veggies in stackable upcycled shipping containers. According to the company, the hydroponic system uses 95 percent less water than field farms. 

“By working with URB-E and utilizing their electric-powered vehicles, initially in New York City, Square Roots can quickly deliver our fresh produce to stores in a way that is better for people and planet, while making good business sense,” Tobias Peggs, co-founder and chief executive officer at Square Roots, said in a press statement

URB-E CEO Charles Jolley expanded on the potential of this partnership in an email interview with TriplePundit. “Today it's actually cheaper in many places to get fruits and vegetables delivered from halfway across the world than across town thanks to the effort put in by major global logistics companies,” he wrote. “Now that we're moving into an era where more people are looking for delivery from local suppliers, URB-E's infrastructure helps put local food suppliers, both urban farms and restaurants, back on an equal footing.”

URB-E hires local employees for delivery, and Square Roots provides jobs for year-long farming. 

No cookie-cutter solution for taking on greenhouse gas emissions

We can return to Schuman’s book for insight on the bigger picture of what it takes to build a successful regional food system. He writes, “A community can best strengthen its economy when it builds on its internal strengths.” 

For a successful regional economy, Schuman is saying, production, transportation and vending need to be customized to the location and its people, and the local people need to be involved. The flexibility of the URB-E and Square Roots partnership to different cities has yet to be seen. 

Jolley expresses the potential for growth in a statement, “Working with local farmers to deliver their responsibly-grown fresh produce — all while reducing emissions by using our vehicles — is part of building the greener and smarter cities of tomorrow, and that’s why we’re glad to partner with Square Roots.”

Image credit: Markus Spiske via Unsplas

Roya Sabri headshot

Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn

Read more stories by Roya Sabri