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Applying the food–energy–water nexus concept at the local scale


The food–energy–water (FEW) nexus describes interactions among domains that yield gains or trade-offs when analysed together rather than independently. In a project about renewable energy in rural Alaska communities, we applied this concept to examine the implications for sustainability and resilience. The FEW nexus provided a useful framework for identifying the cross-domain benefits of renewable energy, including gains in FEW security. However, other factors such as transportation and governance also play a major role in determining FEW security outcomes in rural Alaska. Here, we show the implications of our findings for theory and practice. The precise configurations of and relationships among FEW nexus components vary by place and time, and the range of factors involved further complicates the ability to develop a functional, systematic FEW model. Instead, we suggest how the FEW nexus may be applied conceptually to identify and understand cross-domain interactions that contribute to long-term sustainability and resilience.

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Fig. 1: Study location.
Fig. 2: The FEW nexus.
Fig. 3: Pathways to FEW outcomes in rural Alaska.
Fig. 4: FEW nexus thinking at the local scale.

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This paper is based on data available in the form of reports, videos and blogs at the project website, Upon completion of the project, the data will be transferred to a permanent archive.


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Funding for this work was provided by the US National Science Foundation, award no. 1740075, INFEWS/T3: Coupling infrastructure improvements to food–energy–water system dynamics in small cold region communities. The funding supported all authors except A.S., who contributed without outside support. No other funding was used to support this work. Figures 24 were prepared by M. Rohr, for which we are grateful. J. Selmont reviewed the paper before submission, for which we are also grateful.

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H.P.H., J.I.S., P.A.L., E.W. and W.E.S. developed the idea and contributed to writing and editing the paper. S.A., A.G.B., S.D., A.D.D., D.H., B.J., J.K., H.J.F.P., A.S., D.J.S., R.W.W. and M.W. wrote sections of the paper and contributed to editing of the manuscript. All authors reviewed the final manuscript and approved it for submission and publication.

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Correspondence to Henry P. Huntington.

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Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Chrysi Laspidou, James Magdanz and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Huntington, H.P., Schmidt, J.I., Loring, P.A. et al. Applying the food–energy–water nexus concept at the local scale. Nat Sustain 4, 672–679 (2021).

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