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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

Tesla holds ‘Giga Fest’ at disputed German e-car factory

With a big wheel, music and an appearance by CEO Elon Musk, Tesla is pulling out all the stops Saturday to win over opponents of the electric carmaker's controversial new "gigafactory" near Berlin.

Tesla holds 'Giga Fest' at disputed German e-car factory
Elon Musk visits the Tesla factory in Grünheide in May 2021. Photo: dpa | Christophe Gateau

Construction had begun under an exceptional procedure granted by authorities two years ago, but opposition from locals over environmental concerns has held up final approval for the plant.

Some local residents have planned a counter-protest at the site on the day of the event to underline their opposition to the factory.

Musk will personally drop by at the “Giga Fest”, where the company has laid on a big wheel, electronic music and vegetarian food trucks — an event conceived in the image of Berlin, Europe’s party capital.

Thousands are expected to attend, with locals given priority for the guest list announced by Tesla earlier this week.

Devotees of the brand shared their excitement ahead of the day on social media. “Gigafest here we come. Thrilled to see what they have built in my hometown,” tweeted one.

The project’s opponents are planning another form of welcome. “Let’s take to the streets against this environmental devastation pushed by politicians,” is the call made by protest organisers.

Environmental concerns

Tesla began construction at the site in Gruenheide in 2019 after receiving preliminary approval under a special procedure.

But local authorities are still in the process of evaluating the environmental impact of the factory, despite construction being all but done.

The special treatment afforded to the company angered some residents, who are concerned about the impact the plant could have on the water supply and biodiversity.

Supported by NGOs, opponents have sent letters, held protests and gone to court to try and stop the project.

“Tesla has to follow the same procedures as other companies,” the Green League campaign group said recently.

Last year, work at the Tesla site was temporarily stopped after NGOs requested an injunction to protect the nearby natural habitat of endangered species of lizards and snakes while they were in their winter slumber.

A residents’ consultation, part of the approval process, is due to close on October 14.

Until the survey is completed, final approval cannot be given and production at the factory will not be allowed to begin.

Even then, the state environment ministry in Brandenburg, where the plant is located, told AFP “no date has been fixed” for this authorisation.

Despite local resistance, construction has been completed in double-quick time, replacing a swathe of pine forest with an enormous concrete-paved expanse accessed via “Tesla Road”.

Economies of scale

About 500,000 cars a year should roll off the line at the factory just outside Berlin, Tesla’s first production location in Europe.

On the same 300-hectare plot, Musk also plans to build “the world’s biggest battery factory”.

The site will equally boast the “world’s largest die-casting machine”, said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research in Germany.

The custom-built equipment should allow Tesla to “significantly reduce production costs”, Dudenhoeffer said.

In the event that the factory is not approved, the carmaker will be compelled to dismantle the entire works at its own cost.

SEE ALSO: Is Germany’s Volkswagen becoming ‘the new Tesla’ as it ramps up e-vehicle production?

Such a turn of events is, however, “unlikely”, said Dudenhoeffer, since the project has considerable “political support”.

“Every political party is in favour,” the car expert explained, while noting that changes to the factory facade could be requested by authorities, delaying the beginning of production further.

First planned for July 2021, the start has already been pushed back to the end of this year as a result of the company’s administrative troubles.

Tesla was “irritated” by these setbacks, as it wrote in an open letter in March, in which the company called for a “reform” of Germany’s planning procedures.

Despite the country’s reputation for efficiency, major infrastructure projects are often slowed down by excess bureaucracy.

Berlin’s new international airport opened in October 2020 eight years later than first planned, while the construction of a new train station in Stuttgart is not yet finished, having begun in 2010.

READ MORE: ‘Help shape the future’ – Tesla advertises over 300 jobs for new Gigafactory near Berlin

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