Quantifying the Environmental Impact of Doubling Hawaii’s Local Food Supply

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2018: $21,119.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2020
Grant Recipient: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Kimberly Carlson
University of Hawaii

Information Products


  • Fruits: bananas
  • Vegetables: carrots, greens (lettuces)
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Education and Training: decision support system, on-farm/ranch research, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, carbon emissions, runoff
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, local and regional food systems, public policy, social networks, sustainability measures, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    Hawaii imports almost 90% of its food, resulting in an extremely low degree of food
    self-sufficiency. This import-dependence has been identified as a major economic,
    environmental, and social problem by residents, civil society organizations, and government
    officials in Hawaii. With goals of increasing Hawaii’s food security, reducing its carbon
    footprint, and establishing more sustainable agriculture, Governor Ige pledged to double local
    food supply by the year 2020.
    The agricultural sector is known to cause numerous negative environmental impacts such
    as biodiversity loss and fertilizer runoff. With the proposed movement of doubling local food
    production, bringing those burdens to Hawaii might cause more harm than good to our fragile
    ecosystems, but the extent of potential environmental impact is unknown. The origin of a food
    product directly affects the degree of environmental impact that a product encompasses due to
    varying factors such as climate, soil health, and the types of management practices in that area.
    Long food supply chains common in the modern food system have sparked recent interest
    in the notion of “food miles” which measure the distance food travels from producer to
    consumer. Food that has travelled long distances is often perceived as more energy intensive and
    more greenhouse gas-emitting due to the resources required for transportation. However, several
    studies suggest that the “food miles” approach is a rudimentary indicator of environmental
    damage as it ignores differences in emissions between different forms of transport and energy
    use intensity in other stages of the supply chain. Therefore an assessment that evaluates the
    on-farm conditions where food is produced as well as the various modes of transport to and
    within Hawaii, is needed.
    This project seeks to quantify the embodied environmental impact of Hawaii produced
    and imported food using a combination of farmer surveys and life cycle assessments to
    understand the full environmental impacts of our current and future food systems. With the
    innovative use of mobile phone app technology to engage producer involvement as well as
    community outreach, this project aims to assist local farmers to better market their products,
    guide corporate food sourcing decisions, and empower consumers to refine their purchase
    choices. The results of this project have the potential to affect the future of Hawaii’s food supply
    and support a more sustainable food system in Hawaii.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overarching goal of this research is to evaluate the environmental impact of doubling
    Hawaii’s local food supply. With a declining agricultural industry and recent ambitious policy
    proposals to increase local food production in the State of Hawaii, such research is needed to
    fully understand the implications of agricultural policies for Hawaii’s environment. My specific
    objectives are to:
    1. Compare the environmental impacts of locally produced versus imported foods currently and
    under a doubling of local food supply.
    2. Develop a mobile app to help educate consumers about the sustainability of their food

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.