Since the outbreak of E. coli in Germany and Austria 2011 resulting in suspicions against ecological cucumbers, student Michaela Raab has been interested in the environmental impacts of the cucumber. The overall aim is to help consumers to make an eco-friendly buying decision and show the producers' process emissions.
"My research is about the environmental impacts of cucumber production in Spain, Austria and Sweden and I analyze the results in two perspectives: the consumer and the producer perspective. It compares the carbon footprint of imported organic cucumbers from Spain and the local conventional cultivation in Austria and Sweden in winter months, when local organic cultivation is hardly possible."
Why these particular countries?
"I live in Austria where cucumbers are the third most consumed and imported vegetable. Especially in the winter months organic production is hardly possible, wherefore consumers rely on imports. Spain is a very important export country of vegetables for Europe and Austria. The E. coli incident took place in 2011 and Spanish ecological cucumbers were suspected to spread out these bacteria. Since that time my interest in cucumber cultivation has increased as well as raising consumer awareness of this product. The comparison with the Swedish cucumber production, results from my internship at Chalmers and it was a high and important contribution to my thesis."
What were your conclusions?
"For consumers' decision of buying ecological imported or local conventional cucumbers total emissions are important. It is difficult to help consumers in Austria with their purchase decision, because greenhouse gas emissions of Spanish organic and Austrian conventional cucumbers are very similar. For Swedish consumers, Spanish organic cucumbers are the environmentally friendly product. The carbon footprint is a start to raise consumer awareness of cucumber production and to show their global warming impact, but it is not a complete view. It is a more significant tool for producers."
You were invited as a speaker on "Bio Fach 2013". What did you talk about?
"Bio Fach is the biggest international fair for organic producers and there I presented the results of my diploma thesis. Besides the results, I could introduce the audience to the methodology of Life Cycle Analysis."
Last year you also won the second price of the Umberto Student Award 2012. Could you please elaborate?
"Umberto is a software for Life Cycle Assessment and for seven years, there has been an award for students who carry out their projects with this software. I used it for the carbon footprint calculations of my thesis. The award criteria depend on the project topic (general interest, level of innovation) and on the use of the Umberto software."
The thesis is titled "Carbon Footprint of organic Carbon Footprint of organic Spanish compared to conventional Austrian/Swedish cucumbers- Consumer and producer perspective on reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
Explore further: E. coli outbreak spreading in Germany