Understanding carbon footprint (CF) terminology and the science underlying its determination is important to minimizing the negative impacts of new product development and assessing positive or negative cradle-to-grave life-cycle impacts.
Life cycle assessment has been used to characterize representative field-grown and container-grown landscape plants. The dominant contributor to the CF and variable costs of field-grown trees is equipment use, or more specifically, the combustion of fossil fuels. The majority of that impact is at harvest when heavy equipment is used to dig and move individual trees. Transport of these trees to customers and the subsequent transplant in the landscape are also carbon-intensive activities.
Field-grown shrubs are typically dug by hand and have much smaller CFs than trees. Plastics are the major contributor to CF of container-grown plants. Greenhouse heating can also be impactful on the CF of plants depending on the location of the greenhouse or nursery and the length and season(s) of production.
Knowing the input products and activities that contribute most toward CF and costs during plant production allows nursery and greenhouse managers to consider protocol modifications that are most impactful on profit potential and environmental impact. Marketers of landscape plants need information about the economic and environmental life-cycle benefits of these products as they market to environmentally conscious consumers.