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Special Issue "Sustainability Performance of Conventional and Alternative Food Chains"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Wildlife".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (28 February 2016)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Gianluca Brunori

University of Pisa
Website | E-Mail
Interests: agricultural economics, rural development, rural sociology, agri-food marketing

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

In the last two decades, the corporate-based food system has been shaken by a loss of reputation, due to concerns about its sustainability. In order to respond or to anticipate to an increasing demand of information about sustainability of products and processes, food businesses have addressed the sustainability issue seriously, investing in technologies, measurement tools, certification schemes, and social reporting. This effort put some pressure on 'alternative food chains', that have introduced the issue among consumers by putting into light the vulnerability of the existing food system, and giving consumers the opportunity of choosing alternative products and processes with a high reputation of sustainability. An increasing number of scholars have developed sustainability assessment of food chains, extending the range of sustainability criteria well beyond the environmental ones.

Surprisingly, a growing number of studies show that the superiority of local food chains with regard to sustainability is not to be taken for granted. Methodologies with a high reputation of scientific rigour, such as LCA, tend to confirm these limits. However, there is more than a suspicion that existing sustainability metrics are not appropriate to the characteristics of alternative food chains, and that, when using them as instruments to influence consumers or policy makers, they alter the balance of power in favour of corporates.

The Special Issue will accept papers addressing these questions:

  • How is the sustainability performance assessment of food systems evolving?
  • How does assessment evolve in relation to the evolution of the meaning of sustainability? What is the impact of sustainability assessment on the governance of food chains?
  • What are the methodological differences implied in measuring sustainability of local and global food chains?

Prof. Gianluca Brunori
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.



Keywords

  • sustainability performance assessment
  • local food chains
  • global food chains
  • alternative food chains
  • assessment methodologies
  • governance of food chains

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial Sustainability of Local and Global Food Chains: Introduction to the Special Issue
Sustainability 2016, 8(8), 765; doi:10.3390/su8080765
Received: 25 July 2016 / Revised: 25 July 2016 / Accepted: 26 July 2016 / Published: 8 August 2016
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (179 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Sustainability assessment is one of the keys to competition by food supply chains over sustainability. The way it is conceived and embodied into decision-makers’ choices affects the competitiveness of local and global chains. Science-based assessment methodologies have made substantial progress, but uncertainties—as well
[...] Read more.
Sustainability assessment is one of the keys to competition by food supply chains over sustainability. The way it is conceived and embodied into decision-makers’ choices affects the competitiveness of local and global chains. Science-based assessment methodologies have made substantial progress, but uncertainties—as well as interests at stake—are high. There are no science-based methods that are able to give an unchallenged verdict over the sustainability performance of a firm, let alone a supply chain. Assessment methods are more suited for medium-large firm dimensions, as planning, monitoring, and reporting are costly. Moreover, the availability of data affects the choice of parameters to be measured, and many claims of local food are not easily measurable. To give local chains a chance to operate on a level playing field, there is the need to re-think sustainability assessment processes and tailor them to the characteristics of the analysed supply chains. We indicate seven key points on which we think scholars should focus their attention when dealing with food supply chain sustainability assessment. Full article

Research

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Open AccessArticle A Comparative Analysis of the Social Performance of Global and Local Berry Supply Chains
Sustainability 2016, 8(6), 532; doi:10.3390/su8060532
Received: 25 February 2016 / Revised: 28 May 2016 / Accepted: 30 May 2016 / Published: 7 June 2016
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (415 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The goal of this paper is twofold: to comparatively analyze the social performance of global and local berry supply chains and to explore the ways in which the social dimension is embedded in the overall performance of food supply chains. To achieve this
[...] Read more.
The goal of this paper is twofold: to comparatively analyze the social performance of global and local berry supply chains and to explore the ways in which the social dimension is embedded in the overall performance of food supply chains. To achieve this goal, the social performance of five global and local food supply chains in two countries are analyzed: wild blueberry supply chains in Latvia and cultivated raspberry supply chains in Serbia. The study addresses two research questions: (1) What is the social performance of the local and global supply chains? (2) How can references to context help improve understanding of the social dimension and social performance of food supply chains? To answer these questions, two interlinked thematic sets of indicators (attributes) are used—one describing labor relations and the other describing power relations. These lists are then contextualized by examining the micro-stories of the actors involved in these supply chains. An analysis of the chosen attributes reveals that global chains perform better than local chains. However, a context-sensitive analysis from the perspective of embedded markets and communities suggests that the social performance of food chains is highly context-dependent, relational, and affected by actors’ abilities to negotiate values, norms, and the rules embedded within these chains, both global and local. The results illustrate that the empowerment of the chains’ weakest actors can lead to a redefining of the meanings that performance assessments rely on. Full article
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Open AccessArticle The Complexity of Food Systems: Defining Relevant Attributes and Indicators for the Evaluation of Food Supply Chains in Spain
Sustainability 2016, 8(6), 515; doi:10.3390/su8060515
Received: 15 January 2016 / Revised: 18 May 2016 / Accepted: 19 May 2016 / Published: 27 May 2016
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (1016 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The wide-ranging literature on food systems provides multiple perspectives and world views. Various stakeholders define food and food systems in non-equivalent ways. The perception of the performance of food systems is determined by these specific perspectives, and a wide variety of policies responding
[...] Read more.
The wide-ranging literature on food systems provides multiple perspectives and world views. Various stakeholders define food and food systems in non-equivalent ways. The perception of the performance of food systems is determined by these specific perspectives, and a wide variety of policies responding to different aims are proposed and implemented accordingly. This paper sets out to demonstrate that the pre-analytical adoption of different narratives about the food system leads to non-equivalent assessments of the performance of food supply chains. In order to do so, we (i) identify a set of relevant narratives on food supply chains in Spanish and Catalan contexts; (ii) identify the pertinent attributes needed to describe and represent food supply chains within the different perspectives or narratives; and (iii) carry out an integrated assessment of three organic tomato supply chains from the different perspectives. In doing so, the paper proposes an analysis of narratives to enable the analyst to characterize the performance of food supply chains from different perspectives and to identify the expected trade-offs of integrated assessment, associating them with the legitimate-but-contrasting views found among the social actors involved. Full article
Open AccessArticle Are Local Food Chains More Sustainable than Global Food Chains? Considerations for Assessment
Sustainability 2016, 8(5), 449; doi:10.3390/su8050449
Received: 10 March 2016 / Revised: 25 April 2016 / Accepted: 2 May 2016 / Published: 6 May 2016
Cited by 11 | PDF Full-text (1744 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
This paper summarizes the main findings of the GLAMUR project which starts with an apparently simple question: is “local” more sustainable than “global”? Sustainability assessment is framed within a post-normal science perspective, advocating the integration of public deliberation and scientific research. The assessment
[...] Read more.
This paper summarizes the main findings of the GLAMUR project which starts with an apparently simple question: is “local” more sustainable than “global”? Sustainability assessment is framed within a post-normal science perspective, advocating the integration of public deliberation and scientific research. The assessment spans 39 local, intermediate and global supply chain case studies across different commodities and countries. Assessment criteria cover environmental, economic, social, health and ethical sustainability dimensions. A closer view of the food system demonstrates a highly dynamic local–global continuum where actors, while adapting to a changing environment, establish multiple relations and animate several chain configurations. The evidence suggests caution when comparing “local” and “global” chains, especially when using the outcomes of the comparison in decision-making. Supply chains are analytical constructs that necessarily—and arbitrarily—are confined by system boundaries, isolating a set of elements from an interconnected whole. Even consolidated approaches, such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), assess only a part of sustainability attributes, and the interpretation may be controversial. Many sustainability attributes are not yet measurable and “hard” methodologies need to be complemented by “soft” methodologies which are at least able to identify critical issues and trade-offs. Aware of these limitations, our research shows that comparing local and global chains, with the necessary caution, can help overcome a priori positions that so far have characterized the debate between “localists” and “globalists”. At firm level, comparison between “local” and “global” chains could be useful to identify best practices, benchmarks, critical points, and errors to avoid. As sustainability is not a status to achieve, but a never-ending process, comparison and deliberation can be the basis of a “reflexive governance” of food chains. Full article
Open AccessArticle Comparing the Sustainability of Local and Global Food Chains: A Case Study of Cheese Products in Switzerland and the UK
Sustainability 2016, 8(5), 419; doi:10.3390/su8050419
Received: 17 February 2016 / Revised: 24 April 2016 / Accepted: 25 April 2016 / Published: 29 April 2016
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (726 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Local food has recently gained popularity under the assumption that it is more sustainable than food from distant locations. However, evidence is still lacking to fully support this assumption. The goal of this study is to compare local and global food chains in
[...] Read more.
Local food has recently gained popularity under the assumption that it is more sustainable than food from distant locations. However, evidence is still lacking to fully support this assumption. The goal of this study is to compare local and global food chains in five dimensions of sustainability (environmental, economic, social, ethical and health), covering all stages of the chain. In particular, four cheese supply chains are compared in detail: a local (L’Etivaz) and global (Le Gruyère) case in Switzerland and a local (Single Gloucester) and global (Cheddar) case in the UK. A multi-dimensional perspective is adopted to compare their sustainability performance. Eight attributes of performance (affordability, creation and distribution of added value, information and communication, consumer behaviour, resource use, biodiversity, nutrition and animal welfare) are used to frame the comparative analysis. The results suggest that local cheese performs better in the field of added value creation and distribution, animal welfare and biodiversity. Global chains, by contrast, perform better in terms of affordability and efficiency and some environmental indicators. This analysis needed to be expressed in qualitative terms rather than quantified indicators and it has been especially useful to identify the critical issues and trade-offs that hinder sustainability at different scales. Cheese supply chains in Switzerland and the UK also often present hybrid arrangements in term of local and global scales. Comparison is therefore most meaningful when presented on a local (farmhouse)/global (creamery) continuum. Full article
Open AccessArticle What Is Local or Global about Wine? An Attempt to Objectivize a Social Construction
Sustainability 2016, 8(5), 417; doi:10.3390/su8050417
Received: 18 February 2016 / Revised: 17 April 2016 / Accepted: 19 April 2016 / Published: 28 April 2016
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (2519 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
What is a “local” food chain as opposed to a “global” chain? Are local food chains more sustainable than global chains? In the context of market globalization and the proliferation of local alternatives, these questions have taken on a new aspect, which has
[...] Read more.
What is a “local” food chain as opposed to a “global” chain? Are local food chains more sustainable than global chains? In the context of market globalization and the proliferation of local alternatives, these questions have taken on a new aspect, which has been addressed by the GLAMUR (Global and Local food chain Assessment: a Multidimensional performance-based approach) project. Using an analysis of three archetypal wine chains in the south of France, and considering food chains as embedded social constructions, we will first attempt to objectivize which aspects of wine are local, and which are global, using a multidimensional analytical approach. As local vs. global characteristics seem to be strategic assets or constraints, and not structural components, we will then outline an evaluative approach to wine chain sustainability by valuing qualitative indicators to be scored and benchmarked by experts. We will discuss our findings from a scientific and operational perspective by highlighting how a local vs. global approach produces new sustainability issues and practical solutions. Nevertheless, as concrete chains often mix global and local characteristics, further research must be done in order to assess how this combination may be sustainable for different types of actors, depending on their values, capacities, networks and constraints. Full article
Open AccessArticle Sustainability of Global and Local Food Value Chains: An Empirical Comparison of Peruvian and Belgian Asparagus
Sustainability 2016, 8(4), 344; doi:10.3390/su8040344
Received: 26 February 2016 / Revised: 29 March 2016 / Accepted: 1 April 2016 / Published: 7 April 2016
Cited by 5 | PDF Full-text (562 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The sustainability of food value chains is an increasing concern for consumers, food companies and policy-makers. Global food chains are often perceived to be less sustainable than local food chains. Yet, thorough food chain analyses and comparisons of different food chains across sustainability
[...] Read more.
The sustainability of food value chains is an increasing concern for consumers, food companies and policy-makers. Global food chains are often perceived to be less sustainable than local food chains. Yet, thorough food chain analyses and comparisons of different food chains across sustainability dimensions are rare. In this article we analyze the local Belgian and global Peruvian asparagus value chains and explore their sustainability performance. A range of indicators linked to environmental, economic and social impacts is calculated to analyze the contribution of the supply chains to economic development, resource use, labor relations, distribution of added value and governance issues. Our findings suggest that none of the two supply chains performs invariably better and that there are trade-offs among and between sustainability dimensions. Whereas the global chain uses water and other inputs more intensively and generates more employment per unit of land and higher yields, the local chain generates more revenue per unit of land. Full article
Open AccessArticle Sense and Non-Sense of Local–Global Food Chain Comparison, Empirical Evidence from Dutch and Italian Pork Case Studies
Sustainability 2016, 8(4), 319; doi:10.3390/su8040319
Received: 2 February 2016 / Revised: 17 March 2016 / Accepted: 25 March 2016 / Published: 31 March 2016
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (722 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Priority setting between local versus global food chains continues to be subject of debate among food, rural and agricultural scholars with an interest in how to support more sustainable food provision and consumption patterns. Recently the FP7 European GLAMUR project targeted to assess
[...] Read more.
Priority setting between local versus global food chains continues to be subject of debate among food, rural and agricultural scholars with an interest in how to support more sustainable food provision and consumption patterns. Recently the FP7 European GLAMUR project targeted to assess and compare the performances of local versus global food chains in a systematic way covering multiple performance dimensions. Especially drawing on empirical research on the performances of three Italian and three Dutch pork chains, it will be argued that meaningful performance comparison needs to acknowledge the complex, multi-facetted and time and place specific interaction patterns between (more) global and (more) local pork chains. Therefore, as regards these pork chains, local–global performance comparison is thought to have hardly significance in isolation from complementary “horizontal” (place-based) and “circular” (waste or by-product valorization oriented) assessments. As will be concluded, this methodological complexity of food chain performance comparison doesn’t allow for simple statements regarding the pros and cons of (more) global versus (more) local pork chains. Hence, it is recommended to avoid such less fruitful local–global dichotomy and to concentrate on more policy relevant questions as: how to facilitate fundamentally different resource-use-efficiency strategies and how to optimize the place-specific interaction between more “local” versus more “global” food systems? Full article
Open AccessArticle Handling Diversity of Visions and Priorities in Food Chain Sustainability Assessment
Sustainability 2016, 8(4), 305; doi:10.3390/su8040305
Received: 26 December 2015 / Revised: 10 March 2016 / Accepted: 21 March 2016 / Published: 25 March 2016
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (3061 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Food chain sustainability assessment is challenging on several grounds. Handling knowledge and information on sustainability performance and coping with the diversity of visions around “what counts as sustainable food” are two key issues addressed by this study. By developing a comparative case study
[...] Read more.
Food chain sustainability assessment is challenging on several grounds. Handling knowledge and information on sustainability performance and coping with the diversity of visions around “what counts as sustainable food” are two key issues addressed by this study. By developing a comparative case study on local, regional and global wheat-to-bread chains, and confronting the multidimensionality of sustainability, this work focuses on the differing visions and perspectives of stakeholders. We integrate qualitative and quantitative data, stakeholder consultation and multi-criteria analysis to align the visions and the multiple meanings of sustainability. Because of the complexity and the dynamicity of the food system, the multidimensionality of the sustainability concept and its pliability to stakeholders priorities, sustainability is an object of competition for firms in the agro-food sector and has major implications in the governance of food chains. Results identify key propositions in relation to: (i) the value of combining science-led evidence with socio-cultural values; (ii) multidimensional sustainability assessment as a self diagnosis tool; and (iii) the need to identify shared assessment criteria by communities of reference. Full article
Open AccessArticle Addressing Policy Challenges for More Sustainable Local–Global Food Chains: Policy Frameworks and Possible Food “Futures”
Sustainability 2016, 8(4), 299; doi:10.3390/su8040299
Received: 25 January 2016 / Revised: 8 March 2016 / Accepted: 15 March 2016 / Published: 25 March 2016
Cited by 5 | PDF Full-text (225 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The article considers how policy can address the local–global within a wider commitment to food sustainability and draws on research conducted for the EU-funded GLAMUR project (Global and local food assessment: a multidimensional performance-based approach). Case study data identifies four key policy challenges
[...] Read more.
The article considers how policy can address the local–global within a wider commitment to food sustainability and draws on research conducted for the EU-funded GLAMUR project (Global and local food assessment: a multidimensional performance-based approach). Case study data identifies four key policy challenges for policymakers. Addressing these challenges in order to make links between current (and future) more sustainable food policy involves three phases. The first identifies processes of engagement in three spheres (public policy, the market and civil society); the second identifies points of engagement offered by existing policy initiatives at global, EU, national and sub-national policy levels; and the third builds scenarios as possible “food futures”, used to illustrate how the project’s findings could impact on the “bigger policy picture” along the local–global continuum. Connections are made between the policy frameworks, as processes and points of engagement for food policy, and the food “futures”. It is suggested that the findings can help support policymakers as they consider the effects and value of using multi-criteria interventions. Full article

Review

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Open AccessReview Overcoming Food Security Challenges within an Energy/Water/Food Nexus (EWFN) Approach
Sustainability 2016, 8(1), 95; doi:10.3390/su8010095
Received: 21 October 2015 / Revised: 21 December 2015 / Accepted: 13 January 2016 / Published: 21 January 2016
Cited by 6 | PDF Full-text (3468 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050, in a context of constrained resources and growing environmental pressures posed by current food production methods on one side, and changing lifestyles and consequent shifts in dietary patterns on the other, exacerbated by the
[...] Read more.
The challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050, in a context of constrained resources and growing environmental pressures posed by current food production methods on one side, and changing lifestyles and consequent shifts in dietary patterns on the other, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, has been defined as one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. The first step to achieve food security is to find a balance between the growing demand for food, and the limited production capacity. In order to do this three main pathways have been identified: employing sustainable production methods in agriculture, changing diets, and reducing waste in all stages of the food chain. The application of an energy, water and food nexus (EWFN) approach, which takes into account the interactions and connections between these three resources, and the synergies and trade-offs that arise from the way they are managed, is a prerequisite for the correct application of these pathways. This work discusses how Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) might be applicable for creating the evidence-base to foster such desired shifts in food production and consumption patterns. Full article

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