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How can your weekly shopping help save the world?

The world’s nations met in October in Glasgow to discuss the climate challenges facing the planet at the UN Climate Change conference, more popularly known as ‘COP26’. 

How can your weekly shopping help save the world?
Photo: Getty Images

Already, nations around the world are investigating ways to power their transportation and manufacturing infrastructure with electricity sourced from wind, solar and wave power. Consumers are also increasingly feeling their power in campaigns that influence businesses to change their practices to be more sustainable in the supply and delivery of goods. 

Together with online learning provider GetSmarter and the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership, who offer the Supply Chain Management and Business and Climate Change: Towards Net Zero Emissions online short courses, we explore five ways internationals in Europe can exert influence in guiding businesses to act more ethically and sustainably.

Shop local

Especially popular across Germany, Austria and Switzerland are campaigns that stress the need to source groceries locally. Consumer pressure has forced many supermarkets to place local produce front and centre, in prominent locations. This has been assisted by a surge of support for markets and local general stores, further forcing supermarkets to ensure that they are stocking produce from the surrounding area. While many of these campaigns have enjoyed state and federal support, they are by no means unpopular and enjoy widespread support. 

Further guaranteeing that local produce is prioritised are laws that ensure specific foods are not labelled in such a way to mislead regarding their origin. For example, Allgäu cheese and Schwarzwald ham cannot be labelled as such if they are not produced within these geographical regions.

Shopping in the local produce sections of supermarkets, and carefully checking packaging to ensure that regional specialities are, in fact, sourced locally, sends a clear message to retailers that local produce should comprise the majority of their stock. As a knock on effect, supply chains are shortened and emissions reduced. 

Learn how to become part of the teams developing, revolutionizing and streamlining the supply chains of the future with the Supply Chain Management online short course from GetSmarter and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Management

Look for ‘greenwashing’

Sustainability is a buzzword these days, and as such, features prominently in advertising campaigns. However, the ‘bio’ or ‘green’ laundry detergent that you buy may not actually be as sustainable as the name would suggest. ‘Greenwashing’, by which firms overstate or exaggerate the sustainability credentials of their product, has become a significant issue in recent years. 

France was the first country in the world to introduce criminal charges for ‘greenwashing’ by companies, earlier this year. Those found to have misled consumers can be fined up to 80% of the cost of the advertising campaign in question. 

With significant losses for those who break these laws, ‘ESG’ (environmental, social and governmental) ratings are a major concern. Products are increasingly featuring the ESG rating given to them by one of many watchdog groups. 

At the consumer level, we can avoid ‘greenwashing’ by looking beyond the name, or packaging of a product, and look for the ESG rating assigned to it. If the watchdog assigning it is a member of IOSCO, an umbrella organisation providing oversight over these groups, even better. 

Sourcing goods that truly practice sustainability, rather than adopting it as a marketing device, reduce emissions and benefit the environment. 


Photo: Getty Images

Invest ethically

‘Activist investors’ have become a phenomenon in recent years, which means  consumers are increasingly buying shares in local manufacturers, or working with hedge funds in an effort to influence the sustainability of a business and their supply chains. 

One region that has increasingly seen this occurring is Italy. Over the last five years, activist hedge funds there have prevented a number of mergers and acquisitions, ensuring that supply chains are kept local, and that markets are not flooded with products from elsewhere. Around a third of firms in Italy are family-owned, and efforts to protect them from acquisition are a point of pride for many. 

Consumers in a position to invest can ensure the sustainability of supply chains by either investing themselves in local food and good manufacturers, or by working with funds that prioritise ethical and sustainable investing as part of their mission.

Discover how to guide your business towards zero emissions with the Business and Climate Change: Towards Net Zero Emissions 8 week course from GetSmarter and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

Avoid fast fashion

‘Fast fashion’ – cheap, mass-produced clothing imported from developing countries – imposes a huge burden on the environment. Its supply chains generate a huge amount of carbon emissions, and production in countries often without environmental protections causes a number of different types of pollution. 

Spain, as the home of Zara, one of the world’s biggest producers of ‘fast fashion’, has become a battleground against the practice. Activist groups such as Greenpeace have targeted the retailer in their campaigns, to a great deal of publicity. As a consequence, the Spanish public is increasingly aware of the costs of cheap clothing. 

Retailers across Europe, such as C&A and H&M have sought to avoid the ‘fast fashion’ stigma by supporting campaigns that ‘upcycle’ clothes, reusing fabrics, and sourcing textiles locally. This has the effect of reducing the carbon emissions created by supply chains, and aids in the creation of the ‘circular economy’ – that is to say, the reuse of materials within a market to improve sustainability on an environmental and economic level. 

Consumers can avoid ‘fast fashion’ by carefully sourcing their clothes from labels that reject these practices, by recycling clothes via a variety of online platforms and purchasing clothes made from recyclable fabrics, such as those produced through partnership with the ‘Cradle to Cradle’ Institute. 

Use apps to cut waste

Europe generates approximately 88 trillion tonnes of food waste each year – a truly staggering amount of waste, considering the supply chains required to bring fruit, vegetables, dairy products and other foodstuffs to your local supermarket.

The Nordics have been leading the way in tackling food waste, not only on a governmental level, but on a consumer level. Apps such as Denmark’s TooGoodToGo and Sweden’s Karma, that help both businesses and individuals distribute excess food to others, enjoy a great deal of support from the population. They have proved so successful that they are expanding into the UK, US and other markets, to great acclaim. 

Using food waste apps, and second-hand clothing marketplaces are an effective way for consumers to help develop sustainable, circular economies, where supply chains are streamlined and there is a reduction in emissions – and you might also be able to grab a great bargain

Become an active participant in developing the supply chains that will supply future markets, with the Supply Chain Management online short course from GetSmarter and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. Course begins February 9th

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BUSINESS

Can new 400 billion kronor investment transform Sweden’s mining industry?

Sweden's state-owned mining company LKAB has committed to investing hundreds of billions of kronor to go carbon-neutral by 2045, described as potentially the largest industrial investment ever in the Nordic country.

Can new 400 billion kronor investment transform Sweden's mining industry?
LKAB's mine in Kiruna, northern Sweden. Photo: Hanna Franzén/TT

LKAB said on Monday it would invest up to 400 billion Swedish kronor ($46.6 billion) to “achieve net-zero carbon emissions from its own processes and products by 2045”.

Investments of between 10 and 20 billion kronor would be made yearly over a period of 15 to 20 years, the company said.

“This is the biggest transformation in the company's 130-year history and could end up being the largest industrial investment ever made in Sweden,” Jan Moström, president and CEO of LKAB, said in a statement.

The strategy to reach net-zero emissions would focus on three branches, one being a new standard for mining and another the use of fossil-free technology to extract strategic minerals from today's mining waste.

Lastly the company would leverage green energy, likely using hydrogen, to produce another form of iron known as “sponge iron” rather than traditional iron ore pellets, greatly reducing emissions during the steel-making process.

“In switching from iron ore pellets to carbon-free sponge iron we are taking an important step forward in the value chain, increasing the value of our products and at the same time giving our customers direct access to carbon-free iron,” Moström said.

In early November, the company announced it had created the world's first “fossil-free” iron ore pellets, with biofuel taking the place of oil and coal during the heating process.

The development of fossil-free “sponge iron” is part of a joint project between LKAB, steelmaker SSAB and state-owned utility Vattenfall with the aim of developing a fossil-free process for producing steel, which relies on the combination of iron ore and coal.

According to LKAB, their Swedish operations currently produce 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year, or about four percent of Sweden's industrial emissions, making it Sweden's fourth largest emitter.

The mining giant added that global steel and iron production today accounted for about seven percent of the world's emissions, and that widespread use of “sponge iron” could greatly reduce global emissions.

LKAB also said the transition would mean the creation of 3,000 jobs but with the steel market “forecasted to grow by 50 percent by the year 2050”, LKAB also expected their carbon-free offering would also greatly increase its revenues.

During the transition, LKAB would continue to sell “iron ore pellets in parallel with developing carbon-free sponge iron”, the company said.

During a press conference on Monday, Moström however also pointed to a number of challenges that had to be overcome to achieve the transition, including the need for technological developments and large-scale production of green energy to power facilities.

Isadora Wronski, head of Greenpeace Sweden, said they welcomed LKAB's “ambition to remove fossil energy from their processes”. but added that the aim of going fossil-free was “not enough.”

“Industries first and foremost need to reduce their use of resources… and the energy used needs to be sustainable, eliminating any plans for large-scale bio energy use,” Wronski said in an emailed statement to AFP.

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