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About Water Footprints and the Climate Killer Avocado

The avocado – a climate killer?

Again and again, the topic comes up that the avocado is a real climate offender. Avocados need too much water in cultivation, are definitely not of local origin – especially in Germany, and are transported across the world until we see them on our plates. You could think that they are prime suspects for climate change. But what’s the truth? Are avocados really that “bad”? And what does all this have to do with water consumption?

Superfood avocado?

Avocados grow mainly in South America, South Africa, Spain and Israel. Originally they come from Mexico, where they have been consumed for 10.000 years (!). For everyone who wants to participate in a quizshow: In fact, the avocado is a berry because the avocado tree is botanically a laurel plant. In addition, they are usually picked unripely to ripen on the ground. As a result, pressure marks are avoided, which would also accelerate the fouling. Since about the 16th century, the Europeans are in touch with avocados and, nowadays, they are an indispensable part of our supermarket.

If you buy an unripe fruit, it is best to leave them with apples or bananas at room temperature to ripen in a bowl. However, if it is already ripe and therefore soft on the shell, you can keep it fresh in the fridge. To keep it fresh after slicing, use some lemon juice for preventing oxidation.

The avocado is characterized by its buttery, greenish flesh, which provides plenty of healthy, unsaturated fatty acids. In addition to important omega-3 fatty acids, it provides fiber, as well as vitamins. It includes vitamins A, B, D, E, and K. It also does not lack minerals and trace elements: it is full of important potassium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus. A real superfood – even if it can be considered as a calorie-rich fruit with about 200-250 kcal per piece.

Looks like a jackpot in the avocado-lottery :)
Looks like a jackpot in the avocado-lottery 🙂

But how bad is the avocado? Well, “how bad” something is can only be assessed on the basis of personal feelings. There is no scale for measuring “badness”. But to make that seizable, I use comparisons with other foods. In addition, water consumption per kilogram of produced products is a helpful indicator of the environmental impact of their cultivation.

Water consumption – what does it tell us?

The water consumption or water footprint is an indicator of how many liters of clean water are needed to make one kilogram of a food or product in general. For example, the production of 1 kg of roasted coffee needs an average of 19.000 liters of water. Water consumption usually depends on different production methods, food types and other factors. In general, however, it can be said that the production of food of animal origin has higher water requirements than plant-based food.

This wouldn’t be a problem, if we had unrestricted access to fresh, clean water. The problem, however, is that the purification of water, especially the removal of antibiotic residues, pesticides and other toxic agents, which are mainly used in conventional agriculture and livestock, can be done only at a high cost and high energy consumption. This energy consumption in freshwater treatment is the real evil and one of the culprits in the context of global warming.

The water footprint of different foods in liters per kg
The water footprint of different foods in liters per kg

Let’s keep it realistic

In summary, one can confidently say that the trouble is exaggerated dealing with the avocado. Neither is it the new superfruit with unimaginable healing powers nor is it the number one climate killer. Again, the motto is: in moderation and not in bulk. Of course, it is always better and more sustainable to resort to regional, organic, fair, and seasonal products – both for the climate and for the local, regional economy. However, scolding avocados as climate offenders with a whopper in one hand and a coffee-to-go-cup in the other has something really ironic. True story 😉

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Here are all scientific sources and studies for this blog post

Gerbens-Leenes, P. W./Mekonnen, M. M./Hoekstra, A. Y. 2013: The water footprint of poultry, pork and beef: A comparative study in different countries and production systems, in: Water Resources and Industry, Vol. 1-2, 2013, pp. 25-36.

Hoekstra, A. Y. 2014: Water for animal products: a blind spot in water policy, in: Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 9, 2014, No. 9.

Mekonnen, M. M./Hoekstra, A. Y. 2012: A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products, in: Ecosystems, Vol. 15, 2012, pp. 401-415.

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