Chefs in a commercial kitchen. Carving meat. Trucks in loading bay. Cows in pasture. Cows in pasture.

Sustainable Food Supply Chain and Pollution Prevention


The United Nations projects that the World population will reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050. Extreme weather events such as droughts, hurricanes, floods and rising temperatures are negatively affecting food crops and agricultural viability. The challenge to provide food, energy and water to current, and future, populations is immense for the reason being, food, energy and water are tightly linked, interdependent and there are only limited amounts of each resource.  Promoting a sustainable food supply chain that saves energy and water, reduces waste generation, and practices pollution prevention is essential for our future generations.

The Rutgers EcoComplex promotes a sustainable food supply chain in New Jersey and the Region. We believe that a sustainable food supply chain will not only improve the bottom line of the supply chain members, but also help mitigate climate change by reducing the carbon and water footprint of food production, processing, distribution, and waste generation. Utilizing waste resources more efficiently will in turn supply healthier food to New Jersey and the region.

Food Supply Chain Members

  • Farms and Fisheries
  • Distributors
  • Food Processors and Beverage Producers
  • Refrigerated Warehouses
  • Retailers (grocery stores, wholesale food clubs, bakeries, butchers, farm markets, fish markets, and online food marketers)
  • Restaurants and Food Service providers
  • Consumers


Movements of Food in Food Supply Chain

Food movement graphic.



Food Supply Chain Members and Pollution Prevention



Sustainable Agriculture for Pollution Prevention:
Sustainable Agriculture has an integral part in achieving pollution prevention, mitigating climate change and developing sustainable food systems. Sustainable Agriculture and pollution prevention actions will be more successful if the Food-Energy-Water (FEW) Nexus Concept is integrated into agricultural activities.

  • There is energy embedded in every gallon of water.
  • There is water embedded in every kWh (or joule) of energy used and every mile travelled.
  • There is water and energy embedded in every calorie of food humans consume.



  • Soil Fertility & Regenerative Agriculture are achievable through organic approaches and reduced need for chemical fertilizers. Restoration of soil health through conservation tillage, mulching, composting, cover cropping, crop rotation and restorative livestock integration – techniques drawn from research and traditional farming experiences.
  • Integrating Renewable Energy (RE) and Energy Efficiency (EE) practices into farming to displace fossil fuel generated energy and reducing overall energy consumption
  • Conserving Water in Farming Practices. There are many new and existing practices that a farmer can use to conserve water. Technologies that apply water only to the crop root zone is a good example.  Soil moisture monitoring and calculations for daily water needs based on weather conditions can also help to maximize crop production while minimizing water use.  Getting water to the field where it is needed, without leakage, in the supply system will improve water conservation.  The use of organic matter in the soil, or on the surface as mulch, or using plastic mulch will help to reduce the loss of water from the soil.  For farms with animals, watering systems that minimize waste water at the drinking stations and wash-down techniques that minimize water usage can be utilized for conservation. 
  • Crop Management:  Crops that have been selected for tolerance to drought and high temperatures, will out yield standard varieties during adverse summer weather.  Crop rotation will help to reduce the need for pesticides.  Keeping crop residues in the field and incorporating them back into the soil will help build the organic matter content of the soil and reduce soil erosion.     
  • Maintaining Animal Health:  Overcrowding and unfavorable environmental conditions will lead to poor growth and disease outbreaks in the herd or flock.  Access to fresh water and air are essential for keeping animals strong and healthy.  Regular observation to identify any weak or diseased animals is an important part of animal husbandry.  Diets designed to minimize the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and hormones in the manure will help to minimize the runoff of such compounds into neighboring waterways.



In addition to the activities listed above, farmers can improve their sustainability activities with the following actions:

  • Organic Waste Reutilization: In order to utilize organic waste in the most efficient way, it can be converted into clean biogas followed by utilizing the digestate and clean biomass residue after digestion, for compost to manufacture clean organic fertilizer. This approach will help in closing the loop and in utilizing organic waste in the most sustainable way.
  • Biodiversity Protection & Promotion: Farmers are important practitioners in protecting biodiversity. Biodiversity refers to all plants, animals and micro-organisms within the ecosystem, above and in the soil.
    • Practicing non or reduced tilling
    • Cover crops
    • Buffer strips
    • Intercropping
    • Timing of mowing to allow for bird nesting
    • Timing of pesticide applications to minimize bee exposure
    • Native pollinator habitat creation
    • Mulching
  • Supportive Policies: Farmers ought be a part of the decision making process, and when sharing their experiences and challenges, it will provide potential opportunities within their communities and among other decision makers.
  • Organization and Planning: Farmers, especially those new to the industry, need training on organization and planning, in addition to new technology and practices. Farmers should be well informed in regards to the importance of planning for their businesses
  • Information Management: Farm information management is more than simple record keeping. It is imparative to learn that new information management approaches will help them to meet demands, comply with agricultural and environmental standards, and maintain product quality and safety.
  • Agricultural Worker Protection Standard: Agriculturalists should protect workers by taking necessary precautions; committed to reducing the risk of pesticide exposure and injury among workers. It is important as well to understand that temporary and permanent damage to a workers’ health, could also create social injustice, that will impact farming practices, and possibly result in additional expenses. Both the owner and workers should be educated about the potential health impacts and have a policy on–farm to keep everyone well informed. In addition, be aware of emergency contact requirements.
  • Fair Trade: The ag industry should be conscious that they operate in a global economy with enormous opportunities and challenges.  In order to preserve competitiveness, understanding fair should be recognized and therefore practiced.
  • Nutritious and Healthy Food: Nutritious and healthy affordable food to consumers is more important than ever.  Since potentially there are as many overweight people, as there are undernourished. If not corrected, dietary habits are on a disastrous trajectory for ones health, economy and the environment.  



New Agricultural Approaches & Pathways for Sustainable future and reduce Pollution:

  • Indoor Farming:  Indoor farming can be very productive on land that would otherwise not be suitable for crop production, such as brownfields. However, it is also very energy intensive.  It is important that an indoor crop production facility source its power from renewable sources in order to avoid air emissions that are producing its power at a fossil fuel based energy plant.  Water conservation through recirculation of irrigation water is also an added sustainability benefit of indoor farming.
  • Hydroponics:  Hydroponic systems typically utilize ten times less water than a conventional outdoor crop, per unit of production.  There are many hydroponic systems that recirculate water.  Hydroponic crops do not grow in soil, therefore, work well in brownfield locations.  
  • Aquaponics:  The combination of recirculating aquaculture and hydroponics is called “aquaponics”.  It is a very efficient system for the utilization of water and plant nutrients for animal protein and vegetable production at very high density.  Waste water and nutrient discharges into the environment from this type of system is minimal.
  • Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) – Greenhouse: Crop yields in CEA are typically 10 to 20 times higher per unit area than outdoor production.  Season extension and year-round production are possible with CEA.  Protection from the outdoor environment and pest exclusion are also added benefits that help to reduce the need for pesticides. CEA can be very energy intensive, with clean energy technologies like renewable energy, combined heat and power, are all excellent ways to reduce the environmental impact of the energy required to operate a greenhouse.  
  • Urban Agriculture:  Inner city communities are looking for ways to produce a portion of their diet locally, so it is fresh and nutritious. The the while creating green jobs for local residents.  Urban agriculture can be located on a roof, in a parking lot, on a brown field, or even within a building by utilizing CEA with hydroponic technology.   Transportation costs are reduced, along with refrigeration and food spoilage as well, by growing locally.

Food Distribution for Sustainability & Pollution Prevention:
Freight Sustainability includes reduced idling, using electrified truck stops to avoid using diesel for long time parking. Fleet owners should be aware of the importance of:

  • Reduced idling
  • Reduced fuel consumption through improved aerodynamics
  • Potentials for using cleaner/alternate fuels
  • Maximized trailer space utilization
  • Reduced empty load trips
  • Increased co-loading
  • Improved logistics network
  • Utilization of electrified truck stops
  • Well maintained fleet
  • Well maintained records of procedures, agreements and trainings
  • Complying with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
  • Informed drivers and support teams
  • Understanding that every improvement will benefit the bottom-line of the company and environment and the workers’ & public safety


Innovative Refrigerated Warehouses for Sustainability & Pollution Prevention:
Refrigerated warehousing is important since it is critical for food safety and shelf life to keep food cold between where the food is grown, prepared and consumed. This importance has also increased with new trends in consumer expectations, purchasing styles and behaviors.  Consumers’ newly formed preferences include delivery of prepared food, or a full container of ingredients, to their home. There is more demand than ever for refrigerated warehouse space. Young and informed consumers are more interested in information about the sustainability of the food they consume including the source, carbon and water foot print, and also, social impact of the food. Therefore, the overall sustainability and environmental practices of refrigerated warehouses are much more important.  

Refrigerated warehouses can serve as intelligent hubs to enhance power grid sustainability through integrating renewable energy

    • Building energy efficiency measures
    • Energy efficient lighting
    • Electronically controlled smart fan motors
    • Displace switch-controlled lighting to motion sensors controlled lighting & dimmers
    • Improved building features including insulation, temperature controlled doors, and complying with LEED guidelines.
    • Switching  from greenhouse potent refrigerants such as R22 to alternative refrigeration such as ammonia (NH3) and low charge fluorocarbon –based systems
    • Worker safety and healthy working conditions & training
    • Supply chain & Logistics, improved operations
    • Reduced waste and efficient reutilization through partnerships with other food supply chain members



NRCS Energy Conservation Series Fact Sheets

Conserving Energy in Agricultural Ventilation

Conserving Energy in Greenhouse Operations