There is a bit of controversy surrounding the environmental impact of greenhouses and many of us are confused as to whether that impact is a positive or a negative one. In spite of the very term “greenhouse gas” or “greenhouse effect” originating from them, they are mostly considered to be an eco-friendly practice. However, a closer look at the materials they use and the way in which different types of greenhouses function may clear the confusion and help us understand the actual situation better.
The frame of any greenhouse is either made from wood or aluminum, both of which can be obtained in an economically sustainable manner. Using timber from controlled and regulated sources does not affect the natural forests around us in any way and the biodegradable nature of the material makes it a green choice by default. The manufacturing of aluminum, on the other hand, does involve high energy consumption. The good news is that most aluminum plants these days are powered by hydroelectricity, thereby reducing the impact on non-renewable energy.
Very few things in this world can be produced without using at least some energy and glass is definitely not one of them, as the industrial production process requires a fair bit of energy to function. However, it’s also a process that’s completely recyclable and when done right, leaves little to no negative environmental footprint.
The Natural Greenhouse/Cold House
Primarily, greenhouses are classified into three types based on their heating requirements; cold, warm and hot. The cold greenhouse relies entirely on sunlight for providing nutrition and warmth to its resident plants and that requires absolutely zero energy consumption for heating. Opting for light deprivation greenhouses augments the usage of sun’s rays even further by letting the person in charge control how much of it is allowed inside the greenhouse and when. It essentially tricks the plants into reacting as if it’s autumn or winter, even when it is actually summer. This makes for better and more controlled production without leaving any impact on the environment whatsoever.
Warm and Hot Greenhouses
This is where things get a bit more interesting and controversial because warm and hot houses do contribute to the global CO2 emission in varying degrees, depending on their size. Warm greenhouses are the ones that are heated artificially, once during the onset of the growing season and again towards the end of the season. Hot houses, on the other hand, receive artificial heating throughout the year with varying intensity, depending on the outside temperature. Unfortunately, this does require energy and the process of electric or paraffin heating involved in warm and hot houses does contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
It should be noted that almost all commercial and industrial grade greenhouses utilize artificial heating, as it allows them to greatly increase productivity. While this does have some impact on the environment, in terms of meeting the global demand for food, warm and hot houses have become a necessity now.
How Bad is the Impact?
While artificial CO2 emission is by no means a “good” thing, irrespective of the size of the contribution, the effect of industrial grade greenhouses is negligible compared to what most other industries and manufacturing plants are contributing every year. In addition to that, most greenhouses maximize power-efficiency through effective insulation and smart lighting, thereby minimizing the energy consumption that is necessary for the year-round artificial heating.
Despite this, the CO2 emission is a real fact which needs to be addressed. Research is currently taking place regarding how a greenhouse can be equipped with apparatus that would enable atmospheric carbon capture. If the technology can be developed and employed on a large scale, it would essentially make all greenhouses carbon neutral.
Greenhouses without artificial heating are environmentally friendly structures, which add amazing productivity to the garden or even farmlands. It is true that warm and hot houses do contribute towards certain negative impacts on the environment to a small degree, but considering the tremendous boost in production and finance it brings, that impact is ultimately nullified in the grand scheme of things.
However, the key is in understanding the weather and making the best use of it. Even if you decide to opt for artificial heating in your own greenhouse, you can still reduce your carbon footprint to a minimum by cleverly using the available sunlight in your area. The idea is to combine the best of nature and manmade technology to preserve the environment and boost production at the same time.