Is Organic Always Sustainable?

By Flávio Whately Menandro
February 14, 2022

When we see a product on a store shelf, especially food, labeled as “organic,” many of us assume it’s healthier and more sustainable. Well, although sometimes this is true, it’s not always the case. While organic products are typically more environmentally friendly than non-organic ones, whether they are sustainable or not is a completely different story.

To be deem a product organic, we must know how the product was made or cultivated, how the raw materials were harvested, and what processes were used. For example, if we are talking about some fruit, for it to be considered organic it must have been cultivated without artificial chemicals and using only natural fertilizers or supplements. This would result in a smaller negative environmental impact. Since there would be no chemicals polluting the soil and water, the fruit would be more sustainable than non-organic fruits. Maxwell et. al. mention in their article “Developing sustainable products and services,” that to be sustainable a product must address the Triple Bottom Line (Environmental, Social and Economic), but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on the environmental perspective.

For the second step, we must look at the supply chain. If, for argument’s sake, the fruits were organically cultivated on a small family farm and sold nearby at a local market, the environmental impact of transportation would be low, and, therefore, more sustainable. On the other hand, if the organic fruits were produced on a large farm where many tons of fruits are sold to big supermarkets in other parts of the country or overseas, the environmental impact from transportation would be higher. As we can see, in the second example, even though the product is organic, it is not sustainable due to the negative footprint of the supply chain involved.

Overall, while it is safe to say that buying an organic product is a more environmentally friendly choice, to act sustainably, it is a good idea to buy organic products from local markets when possible. This way we help ourselves by eating healthier while supporting the natural environment and local businesses.

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