The state of the environment can feel overwhelming. With everything else going on in the world, it can almost feel nihilistic. And so, while we normally talk a lot about the actions an individual can take to fight climate change, today we’re going to zoom out.
This blog post will look at your shop for sustainable food from a macro level, assessing the various actors involved and their role in encouraging greater sustainability. With the hope to show that while this is a big issue, it's not on any one of us alone to fix it.
You are a butterfly.
You’ve likely heard of the butterfly effect; the idea that one small action can radically change the outcome of a situation. Well, this is exactly what happens when you start to buy more sustainable food.
First, you never know who you subconsciously impact- whether it's talking about sustainable food options at brunch or scanning your foods in store, someone, without ever mentioning it, will likely change their habits to become more sustainable.
Secondly, it's impossible to know how many people are buying the same products as you. Think of the 8 billion straw adage; if one person uses a plastic straw, it feels fine, but if 8 billion people do the same thing, suddenly the ocean is full of straws. The same is true for sustainable food choices; buying that low impact option may not feel like its making much of a difference, but 8 billion of those swaps sure will.
The action you’re taking to buy more sustainable food is having a hidden cumulative effect, one that will add to the cumulative demand for more sustainable products.
As sustainability and climate change have become more prolific in pop culture, so too have they in legislation. The Paris Agreement, G20 Summit and EU’s New Green Deal are all examples of the increasing prioritisation of the environment.
Most recently, and relevantly, the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) launched their “Green Claim Code” with the aim of reducing greenwashing. Now FMCG products can only be advertised with sustainability claims if such statements can be backed up with data, analysing the product’s complete lifecycle. Brands will also no longer be able to advertise something as a benefit if they are legally required to do it. For example, claiming a face wash is sustainable because it does not contain microbeads would now be against code as microbeads are illegal in the UK.
These new legislations will enforce visible sustainability onto brands, and enable us, the consumers, to make better informed purchases. This action against business is often going on in the background and feels separate from the work we’re doing as individuals, but it all adds to the web influencing sustainable demand.
Finally, we need to talk about the role of businesses, and especially food retailers, in building a more sustainable market.
I know many people are sceptical when it comes to the role of businesses in fighting climate change, especially the most ardent eco-warriors among you, however that may not be the case. If, for example, you believe that companies care only about profit, there is still a strong business case for more sustainable practices.
For example, in 2021, 87% of consumers want brands to act now to encourage future sustainability. In fact, the ethical consumer market is growing rapidly, and sustainability is becoming a key factor in consumer’s choices. Even with the ethical ramifications of sustainability aside, the increased market share gained by brands with clear sustainable practices alone is worth the additional cost of brands adjusting their product.
It’s possible to see the move towards sustainability as motivated by a desire to protect the environment or as a way to gain market share and profit, however, regardless of the stance you take, it’s clear that work will be and is being done to reduce the environmental impact of products.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The climate crisis wasn’t created by one actor and it won’t be solved by one actor either. It requires collaboration and sacrifice from each party to reach the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5’c. And, while this can make the situation feel even more out of our control, it means that each action we take is magnified by the actions of others, legislators and businesses.
The three actors outlined above create the perfect storm; each encourages the other to be more sustainable. We’ll be writing more blog posts about the role of business in sustainability in the future, however, for now, we can take comfort knowing that we’ve created the perfect situation for a more sustainable future.
SmartestEnergy Sustainability Matters Report - December 2021
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