Politécnica de Madrid

From orchard to table: Towards new sustainable production systems

Researchers from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid has estimated the environmental impact of a peri-urban orchard network. The conclusions will help support decision making to achieve more sustainable cities.

A team of researchers from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), in collaboration with the National Institute for Agricultural Research and Experimentation (INIA), has estimated the Environmental Footprint of a peri-urban orchard network in the city of Zaragoza considering the entire product lifecycle.

Results show that the highest environmental impacts come from the supply chain, especially from the consumption of fuel, plastics, and electricity. These conclusions will allow us to design actions that help the sustainability of this production system.

The peri-urban areas are lands located around cities that are neither used for urban development nor for rural purposes. A way to improve the environment is to use these lands for agricultural purposes.

The peri-urban and urban orchards in Spain emerged as a solution for precariousness. The massive migration to cities in the mid 50's boosted the first peri-urban orchards in Madrid and Barcelona.

Credit: Flickr

Today, the increasing interest for the environment, the organic food, the development and diversification of the local economy with the help of citizen participation have boosted the peri-urban orchards in Spain.

In order to assess the sustainability and environmental impact of these production systems, a team of researchers from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, led by Sergio Álvarez and Sara Martínez from ETSI Caminos, Canales y Puertos and School of Forestry Engineering and Natural Resources carried out a research to obtain the Environmental Footprint of a peri-urban orchard network.

This study is coordinated project by the City Council of Zaragoza titled “Environmental recovery of peri-urban areas through the intervention in the ecosystem and ecological farming”. Besides, this study aims to activate the primary sector from a local economy perspective, promote employment, revalue traditional cultural heritage and provide km 0 products.

Researchers used the multi-impact indicator proposed by the European Commission, called Environmental Footprint, to study the environmental sustainability of peri-urban orchards network. This indicator gives information about the environmental behavior of a product or about the organization that produces products and services throughout their life cycle.

The sample used for this study was a network of seven organic peri-urban orchards located in Zaragoza (Spain). The assessment included all the activities needed to carry out the right development of the crop. The quantification of the Environmental Footprint was conducted by using the extended input-output analysis, which is a new approach to the input-output analysis used in the economic field that includes environmental effects.

After analyzing both the direct impacts caused by the own system and the indirect impact caused by the value chain for the acquisition of good and services, the results showed that approximately 70% of the overall impacts were indirect impacts generated in the supply chain comparing the 14 impact categories. These categories were assessed through the Environmental Footprint and came from the high consumption of fuel, plastics, and electricity.

According to Sara Martínez, a UPM researcher, “the results allow us to suggest some measures focused on improving the environmental impact of the farming system. For instance, to boost the use of biodegradable plastics, renewable energy, and efficient machinery.

It should also be borne in mind that a high percentage of such impacts are produced in the supply chain, and thus the origin of products and services that are sold or hired play an important role when fighting against the reduction of environmental impact”.


Martinez, S; Delgado, MM; Martinez-Marin, R; Alvarez, S. The environmental footprint of an organic peri-urban orchard network. SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT, 636 569-579‬‬; 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.04.340 SEP 15 2018