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Title: Environmental impacts and resource use of urban agriculture: a systematic review and meta-analysis
Abstract Environmental merits are a common motivation for many urban agriculture (UA) projects. One powerful way of quantifying environmental impacts is with life cycle assessment (LCA): a method that estimates the environmental impacts of producing, using, and disposing of a good. LCAs of UA have proliferated in recent years, evaluating a diverse range of UA systems and generating mixed conclusions about their environmental performance. To clarify the varied literature, we performed a systematic review of LCAs of UA to answer the following questions: What is the scope of available LCAs of UA (geographic, crop choice, system type)? What is the environmental performance and resource intensity of diverse forms of UA? How have these LCAs been done, and does the quality and consistency allow the evidence to support decision making? We searched for original, peer-reviewed LCAs of agricultural production at UA systems, and selected and evaluated 47 papers fitting our analysis criteria, covering 88 different farms and 259 production systems. Focusing on yield, water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and cumulative energy demand, using functional units based on mass of crops grown and land occupied, we found a wide range of results. We summarized baseline ranges, identified trends across UA profiles, and highlighted the most impactful parts of different systems. There were examples of all types of systems—across physical set up, crop type, and socio-economic orientation—achieving low and high impacts and yields, and performing better or worse than conventional agriculture. However, issues with the quality and consistency of the LCAs, the use of conventional agriculture data in UA settings, and the high variability in their results prevented us from drawing definitive conclusions about the environmental impacts and resource use of UA. We provided guidelines for improving LCAs of UA, and make a strong case that more research on this topic is necessary to improve our understanding of the environmental impacts and benefits of UA.  more » « less
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Environmental Research Letters
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National Science Foundation
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