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Wendy Gordon

Wendy Gordon

Posted February 4, 2009 | 11:30 AM (EST)

Orange is Greener When It's Organic

Breakfast, they say, is the most important meal of the day, and if yours is like most families', it includes a glass of orange juice, a great source of Vitamin C. Few, or so we figured, have ever tipped back their glass of orange deliciousness and wondered about the other C, the element Carbon, and just how much the morning glass-full contributes to the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other global warming gases into the atmosphere. As it turns out, PepsiCo, which owns the Tropicana brand, did and recently hired experts to conduct the life cycle analysis to find out. What they learned surprised them; it wasn't running the factory or transporting the heavy juice containers, but the nitrogen fertilizers, which require natural gas to make and can turn into a potent greenhouse gas, that were the primary contributor.

PepsiCo should be commended for taking a look at the CO2 footprint of its products and finding out just where the carbon is in the chain. They're now in a better position to make decisions that will curb their energy use and combat global warming. And lucky for them, research conducted at the Rodale Institute's Experimental Farm provides strong evidence that organic farming practices can do just that -- combat global warming by capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide and incorporating it into the soil.

The data come from the institute's Farming Systems Trial launched in 1981, which compared a conventional agriculture system to two types of organic farming systems. Over the course of 23 years, the trial revealed that the two organic systems increased soil carbon by 15 to 28 percent, while the conventional system showed none. For the organic systems that translates into about 3,670 lbs of CO2 per acre-foot per year -- and that's not even counting the reductions in CO2 emissions represented by the fact that organic farming uses just 63 percent of the energy required by conventional farming systems, largely because of the massive amounts of energy required to synthesize nitrogen fertilizer.

The energy needed to transport heavy juice containers should be factored in when considering which juice to buy. Green Guide's recommendation: Go for the organic brands that are available as concentrate to start your day off on the right foot, and with the smallest footprint.