Can Data Inform Sustainability?

“Sustainability” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days in the world of consumerism. The vigor with which the term is applied to products, and the effect it has on the consumer’s purchasing process seems to be indicative of a sea change in the general perception of responsible consumption, with an increasing awareness of the impact our choices have on the environment, and the greater implications that climate change has for future generations.

It is deemed preferable and even responsible now for one to purchase a food product that advertises “sustainably sourced” ingredients, or fresh produce that is “sustainably farmed”. 

But, what does that mean? How is “sustainability” determined?  What is the actual metric for determining the true sustainability of a product, especially fresh fruits and vegetables? 

So...What IS sustainability, actually? 

The general understanding among average consumers is that a “sustainable” product is one that requires fewer natural and/ or manmade resources to produce, leaving less of a negative impact on the environment and therefore being replicable in the long term. 

I recently spoke to Jeremy Hale, a sustainability specialist and consultant whose work with Her Many Voices Foundation necessitates a deeper discussion of how sustainability can be determined and defined for consistent analysis of agricultural best practices. For this organization, implementing the agricultural practices of indigenous women across the globe offers an opportunity to demonstrate how culturally traditional agrarian methods more instinctively model a synchronistic approach with natural elements and resources. As with any research, in order to make systems replicable they need to be quantifiable, and this is done through data collection. 

“'Environmental, social, and corporate governance' (ESG) is a term that’s frequently misused in meetings for nodding heads and marketing campaigns to communicate that 'there's a problem and we’re looking into it', says Jeremy.  “Without quantifiable pledges, there’s no accountability...which is why data and information is so valuable. The more we know about the system, the more efficiently we can minimize environmental impacts and take steps towards long term solutions. How can I trust an organization that sets goals like 0 emissions by 2040 but (can’t) tell me how they plan to succeed with their goals?”. 

What kind of data should we be considering? 

According to Jeremy, the data that is currently being collected on sustainable agriculture and best practices, while useful, only offers a limited perspective of what makes a product sustainable. 

Jeremy believes, “It is not simply the way a product is grown: cross country logistics, manufacturing deficiencies, single-use packaging …uniform data must be made available for (consumers) to make the right decisions to generate changes in the market and reverse environmental micro-issues generated every day”. 

In other words, it is wonderful if a farmer uses organic soils and eliminates chemical pesticides during cultivation. This is certainly much kinder to the planet and to those who consume the produce. But if maintaining this crop year-round to meet consumer demand requires an excess of natural resources and energy, places unnatural stressors on parcels of arable land draining soils of nutrients, and is driven hundreds of miles to its final destination, these are impacts to consider that compromise the overall sustainability of a product. For Jeremy, this process of agricultural transport (and its subsequent carbon footprint) is a critical piece to the puzzle that needs to be transparently and uniformly tracked and reported. 

Is Indoor Agriculture Conducive to Data Collection? 

One solution to reducing overall carbon emissions created by current food supply transit processes is to be able to grow what you want, where you want using controlled environment agriculture (CEA). The ability to monitor growth rates in real time allows growers to make informed, data-backed decisions on a crop-by-crop basis about optimal environmental growth conditions for maximum yield.

According to Jeremy, there are other reasons for keeping accurate data. “Indoor grows allow the ability to understand and collect energy use information, to allow production to improve as variabilities are tested to balance the energy inputs with the nutritional needs of the produce grown”. 

In other words, the same data used to identify optimum CEA growth conditions can be held to a standard of defined sustainability points. Quantifiable standards can help to determine how sustainable a product truly will be in the long term, according to the particular energy inputs and outputs of cultivation and processing. 

Great, but who’s keeping track of the data? 

CEA seems to be a widely adopted path forward, in a world where “sustainability” often includes strategies for feeding the growing planet in a time of climate change and farmable land limitations. While we have become more mindful that depleting or contaminating resources is not a viable path forward, we cannot expect that everyone has the time or experience to collect specific data that will inform a larger purpose. 

Luckily for us, we live in a time of great technological innovation. As we mention in our Guide to Plant and Cannabis Maintenance, there are countless ways to automate your grow so that data can be tracked and processes activated in real-time.

For example, Trella Tech’s companion application for the TrellaGro LST™ will track humidity and temperature conditions as well as growth rates of each plant. This data is useful not only when trying to establish best practices for greatest yield, but it will also alert growers to situations where environmental inputs can be immediately managed - saving energy, reducing waste, and possibly even saving a crop.

The TrellaGro LST Dashboard (3)

The road to sustainability is a long road that will require perseverance and patience on a global scale if we are to make strides during our lifetime; but, through small manageable steps it is possible. Accountability for this planet does not lie solely on the food producers. There are ways to standardize, break down and share data so that we may have a more active and informed role as consumers doing our best to access the healthy food and plant medicine we deserve. 

And as always, we here at Trella Technologies are ready to help you maximize your indoor vertical grow setup with stackable, automated, low-stress training technology. Reach out if you have any questions about our technology, or even if you'd just like to say hi. Find us on Instagram or reach out to

Until next time, stay well, stay warm, and keep growing strong!

By Sheri Lupoli on behalf of Trella Technologies