Sustainable Indoor Farming Is The Future
Updated: Oct 17
Indoor farming is growing fast. In fact, 10% plus of all North American produce is expected to come from indoor farms by 2025[i]. And, it’s no surprise because indoor farming addresses pressing environmental and supply challenges. Compared to outdoor agriculture, indoor farms use water more efficiently, produce more crop per cultivated area, and can provide locally grown produce anywhere.
% of supply
L Water / kg produce
kg produce / m 2 / yr
Figure 1: Efficiency of different agricultural production systems.[ii]
Indoor farms also use fewer pesticides, reduce fertilizer use and run-off, minimize food
waste, and help ensure food security. These game-changing improvements can enable us to adapt to a changing climate. Indoor farms have the potential to significantly reduce deforestation, water stress, and pollution caused by outdoor agriculture.
BUT THERE’S A PROBLEM
Unfortunately, greenhouse gas emissions for crops grown indoors can be up to ten times greater than for outdoors.
Figure 2: Emissions comparison between different agricultural production systems.[iii]
Vertical farms and advanced greenhouses depend on large amounts of energy for
lighting, heating, and cooling. While some indoor farms obtain this energy from renewable sources, others rely on fossil fuels. A low-cost supply of coal, oil and gas has allowed indoor farms to thrive over the past twenty years. But as energy prices rise, governments regulate carbon emissions, consumers demand sustainable products, and retailers set ambitious Scope 3 emission targets, indoor agriculture will need to respond.
CARBON LABELS HAVE ARRIVED
CPG companies, food service businesses, and retailers are beginning to use carbon labels. Oatly marks their carbon footprint score on the front of their bottles; Unilever has committed to carbon labeling on all 75,000 of its products; and food service company Just Salad displays a carbon footprint breakdown. Nine in ten consumer goods companies disclose their carbon emissions in ESG annual reports, and consumers believe carbon labeling is a good idea.[iv]
WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
Soon, we can expect retailers to provide carbon labels similar to those shown above. In
Denmark, Coop DK has launched a program for shoppers to check the climate impact of their groceries. [v] The majority of consumers would choose a product with a lower carbon footprint, assuming similar pricing. Large retailers are setting ambitions emission-reduction targets. Walmart has pledged to have zero emissions by 2040 and a 65% reduction from 2015 by 2030. They will eliminate one billion metric tons of carbon emissions by 2030 by focusing on upstream and downstream suppliers.
HOW CARBONBOOK IS HELPING
CarbonBook has developed a web-based application that provides indoor farms and
retailers with an easy-to-use tool to track, benchmark, improve, and communicate their
sustainability metrics. The process begins with a life cycle analysis that tracks CO 2 equivalent emissions from cradle to shelf. The app creates an auditable history for carbon credits, tax programs, regulatory stakeholders, and produce labeling. Most importantly, CarbonBook’s app helps develop a bedrock of data to transform indoor farm sustainability programs.
[i] “Growing Beyond the Hype: Controlled Environment Agriculture,” S2G Ventures, 2020.
[ii] Tessa Naus, “Is Vertical Farming Really Sustainable?,” EIT Food, August 29, 2018, https://www.eitfood.eu/blog/is-vertical-farming-really-sustainable.
[iii] “CO2 Emissions Scoping Report,” One Farm, 2018.
[iv] “Product Carbon Footprint Labelling: Consumer Research 2020,” The Carbon Trust, December 31, 2020, https://www.carbontrust.com/resources/product-carbon-footprint-labelling-consumer-research-2020.
[v] “Campaign of the Week: Coop DK Carbon-Footprint Tracker,” Contagious, accessed September 23, 2022, https://www.contagious.com/news-and-views/campaign-of-the-week-coop-supermarket-carbon-footprint-tracker.