Improving the eco-efficiency of food systems is one of the major global challenges faced by the modern world. Short food supply chains (SFSCs) are commonly regarded to be less harmful to the environment, among various reasons, due to their organizational distribution and thus the shortened physical distance between primary producers and final consumers. In this paper, we empirically test this hypothesis, by assessing and comparing the environmental impacts of short and long food supply chains. Based on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach, we calculate eco-efficiency indicators for nine types of food distribution chains. The analysis is performed on a sample of 428 short and long food supply chains from six European countries. Our results indicate that, on average, long food supply chains may generate less negative environmental impacts than short chains (in terms of fossil fuel energy consumption, pollution, and GHG emissions) per kg of a given product. The values of eco-efficiency indicators display a large variability across analyzed chains, and especially across different types of SFSCs. The analysis shows that the environmental impacts of the food distribution process are not only determined by the geographical distance between producer and consumer, but depend on numerous factors, including the supply chain infrastructure.
The paper presents a holistic evaluation of the energy and environmental profile of two renewable energy technologies: Photovoltaics (thin-film and crystalline) and solar thermal collectors (flat plate and vacuum tube). The selected renewable systems exhibit size scalability (i.e., photovoltaics can vary from small to large scale applications) and can easily fit to residential applications (i.e., solar thermal systems). Various technical variations were considered for each of the studied technologies. The environmental implications were assessed through detailed life cycle assessment (LCA), implemented from raw material extraction through manufacture, use, and end of life of the selected energy systems. The methodological order followed comprises two steps: i. LCA and uncertainty analysis (conducted via SimaPro), and ii. techno-economic assessment (conducted via RETScreen). All studied technologies exhibit environmental impacts during their production phase and through their operation they manage to mitigate significant amounts of emitted greenhouse gases due to the avoided use of fossil fuels. The life cycle carbon footprint was calculated for the studied solar systems and was compared to other energy production technologies (either renewables or fossil-fuel based) and the results fall within the range defined by the global literature. The study showed that the implementation of photovoltaics and solar thermal projects in areas with high average insolation (i.e., Crete, Southern Greece) can be financially viable even in the case of low feed-in-tariffs. The results of the combined evaluation provide insight on choosing the most appropriate technologies from multiple perspectives, including financial and environmental.