Sustainable shopping: want to eat healthy? Try an eco-friendly diet



File 20180118 122935 6pu4zh.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Healthy eating should include thinking about the environmental cost of your food.
Al Case/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Michalis Hadjikakou, Deakin University

Following our annual Christmas overindulgence, many of us have set ambitious goals for the year ahead. But eating healthy shouldn’t just mean cutting down on snacks; given the environmental impact of food production, a more sustainable diet should feature high on everyone’s list of New Year’s resolutions.

Australians have one of the largest per capita dietary environmental footprints in the world, so there’s definitely room for improvement. But, as with all diets, radical and sudden changes like going vegan or vegetarian are notoriously difficult.




Read more:
Love meat too much to be vegetarian? Go ‘flexitarian’


Smaller, more achievable behavioural shifts are more realistic. This also makes sense from an environmental perspective – large-scale drastic changes might end up shifting one type of environmental impact to another.

This guide is about making informed, feasible changes towards a more environmentally sustainable diet. It starts with the food items you put in your shopping basket.

Meat, junk and waste

Sustainability researchers, like myself, track the life cycle of food from farm to fork, measuring the energy used and emissions generated by the entire process.

Australia’s food consumption contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, land clearing and biodiversity loss, and ocean pollution.




Read more:
Kitchen Science: from sizzling brisket to fresh baked bread, the chemical reaction that makes our favourite foods taste so good


There are many reasons our diets have such a large environmental impact, but one of the biggest is that we’re a nation of meat eaters. On average, an Aussie eats 95kg of meat a year, significantly more than the OECD average of 69kg.

Generally, animal-derived foods require more energy and resources and release significantly more emissions than most plant foods. This is particularly true for red meat: the current average consumption is 24% higher than the maximum recommended intake.

Another reason is our overconsumption of total calories, often driven by junk foods. Eating more food than we need means the environmental resources used in producing that extra food are wasted. It also leads to a range of health problems such as obesity.

Finally, the extraordinary amount of household food waste in Australia – around 3.1 million tonnes of edible food a year – also has a major impact.

What is realistic dietary change?

Sustainable dietary choices aren’t just about environmental impact – it also means being realistic and consistent. Only 11% of Australians are vegetarian, so expecting a majority to drastically reduce meat consumption is impractical, and probably alienating.

Alternatives like flexitarianism (eating meat more rarely) are more achievable for most.

An added complication is that most Australian cows are raised on pasture, which has a high carbon footprint but requires less water than growing many plant foods. So, the complete substitution of red meat or dairy with plant-based products could simply change one environmental impact for another.

Putting it all together – simple shopping advice

Moderation: Cutting out staples of the Australian diet, like meat, is not a realistic goal for many people. But try moderating your cmeat that has the highest environmental impact (beef and lamb) and instead go for chicken or pork.

Reducing junk food is good for your wallet, waist and the environment. Processed meats or dairy-based desserts have the highest footprints amongst junk foods, so when the urge to indulge hits, go for fruit-only desserts such as sorbets. Or just buy more fruit to freeze and turn into delicious and healthy smoothies that you can enjoy even more regularly. (Grapes are very high in sugar, and when frozen are great summer treats.)




Read more:
A healthy diet is cheaper than junk food but a good diet is still too expensive for some


Meal planning can also help cut down food waste, so it might be worth trying a pantry planning app.

Substitution: Think about your favourite recipes, and how you can swap out the most resource-greedy ingredients. Some meats can be replaced with alternative sources of protein such as legumes and nuts.

Sustainably-farmed or sourced seafood is another protein alternative with a lower environmental footprint compared to meat, as long as you choose your seafood wisely – for canned tuna make sure to check the label! Seasonal produce usually requires fewer resources and needs to travel less to the store, so it’s worth checking a guide to what’s in season in your region.




Read more:
Sustainable shopping: how to buy tuna without biting a chunk out of the oceans


Complex packaging of many food products, which is often unnecessary, also contributes to their environmental impact. Opt for loose fruit and vegetables and take your own shopping bags.

Experimentation: When you do buy meat, opt for novel protein sources such as game meat – we are lucky to have an abundance of kangaroo as a more sustainable protein alternative in Australia. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, you could also try some insects.

This guide is a starting point for thinking about a more sustainable diet, but food systems are incredibly complex. Animal welfare and the viability of farming communities are just part of the social and economic issues we much deal with.

The ConversationUltimately, while consumers can drive change, this will be incremental: transformative change can only be achieved by food producers and retailers also coming on board to drive a more sustainable food system.

Michalis Hadjikakou, Research fellow, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, Engineering & Built Environment, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Sustainable shopping: for eco-friendly jeans, stop washing them so often


File 20170523 5786 1dnc5ea
There is a pair of jeans for every occasion.
Krisana Antharith/Shutterstock

Alice Payne, Queensland University of Technology and Susannah Kate Devitt, Queensland University of Technology

Denim jeans – whether ripped, straight, flared, vintage or raw – are one of the world’s most-loved garments. But from fibre to wardrobe, they have a considerable ecological footprint.

Given the diversity of cotton growing enterprises and clothing producers around the world, tracking the environmental impact of a pair of cotton jeans is no simple feat.

But as a denim-wearer you can make more sustainable choices by buying responsibly, extending your jeans’ life with gentle washing and choosing to repair, not replace.

In this guide we’re looking at the key stages of jeans’ life cycle: cotton cultivation; spinning and dyeing; manufacturing, distribution and retailing; and what happens after you get them home.

Cotton cultivation

Let’s begin with the cotton crop, in which water and pesticide use are prominent environmental issues.

Cotton is a thirsty crop, using 3% of the world’s irrigation water on 2.2% of global arable land. However, better management can reduce water wastage and improve efficiency.

Like humans, insects and bugs are attracted to the pillowy white fluff that is actually the fruit of cotton. Traditional cotton farming is chemically intensive, but genetically altered cotton varieties and innovations in integrated pest management have almost halved insecticide use (from 25% to 14% of global insecticide sales) since the 1990s.

Organic cotton crops use no synthetic chemicals, but yields are typically lower than that of conventional cotton, and organic cotton represents less than 1% of the 25 million tonnes of cotton grown globally. Its water consumption is similar to non-organic cotton.

However, organic producers in developing countries can charge a premium for their crops and aren’t reliant on synthetic insecticides and pesticides. If you want to buy organic cotton jeans, you can check for brands accredited by the Global Organic Textile Standard.

To improve cotton cultivation standards globally, the not-for-profit organisation Better Cotton Initiative was established in 2005 to promote more sustainable cotton growing, with better practices across water use, land and pest management and social indicators. Major fashion retailers like Levis Strauss & Co., H&M, The Gap, Kathmandu and Burberry are focusing on sourcing Better Cotton, organic, or recycled cotton for their clothing.

Spinning, dyeing and manufacturing

The process of spinning fibre into yarn, yarn into cloth, and manufacturing cloth into clothes represents some 70% of the total energy consumption of creating a pair of jeans.

The iconic indigo colour and the broken-in look of denim are the result of chemically intensive and high water use treatment processes that can take a toll on workers’ health and safety and impact the environment.

Leading denim brands are actively promoting techniques that limit the chemical and water intensity of wet processing, like enzyme finishing, laser etching and ozone treatments.

Initiatives such as Zero Discharge of Hazardous Waste work across the apparel supply chain to tackle this problem. You can check their website for a list of brands that have committed to better practises.

Denim manufacturing is chemically intensive.
Moreno Soppelsa/Shutterstock

Wearing jeans

It may come as a surprise, but a large part of the environmental impact of a pair of jeans occurs after you buy them – how you launder and care for your jeans, and for how long, can be crucial in minimising denim’s ecological footprint. Throw-away fashion is a huge problem: a survey of 1,500 British women found the majority of garments (not just jeans) are worn as few as seven times.

You can minimise your jeans’ footprint simply by washing and drying them less often. We often launder far more often than needed, and overwashing may be more from habit than actual dirtiness of garments. In a 2012 study, participants wore the same pair of jeans unwashed for three months with no ill effects. Any smells or stains were simply managed through airing or spot cleaning.

Jeans have a patina of use that factories work hard to simulate – but you can develop your own patina through wear over a lifetime.

Forward-looking denim brands are embracing longevity, with Nudie jeans offering repair services, and Levi Strauss promoting durability and a personal connection to one’s clothing.

New business models promote a circular approach to consumption: you can rent your jeans from Mud jeans, and at the end of your jeans’ life, Mud will collect them for reuse or recycling.

Easy steps for buying greener

If buying new, purchase from retailers actively sourcing responsibly grown cotton. Check for standards and certifications like Better Cotton or the Global Organic Textile Standard.

Look for retailers that promote environmentally friendly processes, such as enzyme-washed denim or waterless denim. You can dig into your denim retailer’s sustainability statements on their website to see if they have signed up to initiatives to tackle hazardous chemicals, such as Zero Discharge of Hazardous Waste, or if they have their own scheme in place.

Remember that the most sustainable pair of jeans is the pair you already own. Care for your jeans by laundering them lightly and less often, using a cold wash cycle and line drying. Freshen them up between washes by hanging them in the sun or in a steamy bathroom.

The ConversationMost importantly, extend their life by repairing them if damaged, and give them that patina of use through wear.

Alice Payne, Senior lecturer in Fashion, Queensland University of Technology, Queensland University of Technology and Susannah Kate Devitt, Research Associate, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sustainable shopping: with the right tools, you can find an eco-friendly car


File 20170504 21620 6v6bm0
When we look at the latest car models we want fast cars, all-terrain cars or cars to fit the whole family. What about an environmentally friendly car?
REUTERS/Toby Melville

Anna Mortimore, Griffith University

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Welcome to the second instalment of our Sustainable Shopping series, in which we ask experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. The Conversation


Cars are vital to Australians. As of 2016, we have 18.4 million registered motor vehicles, producing vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fuels..

The harms of CO₂ emissions from fossil fuel burning have been hammered home time and time again: they are the main driver of global warming and sea level rise, and they harm vulnerable communities. So how can our choice of car minimise these devastating outcomes?

The issue

Without reducing road transport emissions , the Australian Government will find it difficult to meet our climate target of a 26-28% reduction on 2005 emission levels by 2030.

A simple way to reduce transport emissions significantly is to guide consumers towards more fuel-efficient vehicles. Many other countries have minimum national standards for new cars, but no such targets currently exist in Australia.

This means global car manufacturers can dump high-polluting cars, which can’t be sold in countries with stricter regulations, into the Australian market. The most fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles offered in Australia are on average less efficient than those offered in other countries with fuel efficiency standards. Car manufacturers offer those vehicles that are cost effective to supply and maximise their profit in the Australian market.

Internationally, this makes Australia a laggard when it comes to energy efficiency in the transport sector, ranking last out of 16 major OECD countries.

How can we increase sustainability?

The federal government has proposed a set of fuel-efficiency and CO₂ emission regulations, to be introduced by 2020.

The regulations will encourage car manufacturers to import and promote the most fuel-efficient models. Evidence shows that motorists’ vehicle choices play a key role in decarbonising the transport sector.

The current Australian fuel consumption label is confusing and doesn’t give people enough context.
Climate Change Authority

But as it stands, if you want to make an informed choice about your new car, you generally have to rely on the mandatory fuel-efficiency and CO₂ emission labels (displayed on all new cars), and information provided in the Green Vehicle Guide.

Unfortunately, current car labels can be very confusing, presenting numbers with very little context. There is a simple way to make this labelling more effective, which other countries have done very well: rate vehicles against a benchmark.

The Irish fuel label, for instance, includes colour-coded bands to rank CO₂ emissions, and an estimate of the amount of fuel needed to travel 18,000km. Buyers can tell at a glance if a score is good or bad, and thus easily compare models.

Irish fuel consumption labels are well recognised and easily understood by consumers.
Ask About Ireland

Irish car labels also tell buyers about the vehicle’s registration tax (stamp duty), which varies based on its CO₂ emissions.

What can Australians do?

The best starting point when buying a new car is the Green Vehicle Guide, which gives you the CO₂ emissions intensity for each model.

Let’s say I really want a fuel efficient medium-sized SUV. Searching in the Green Vehicle Guide will lead me to the Mitsubishi Outlander (petrol-electric) hybrid, which emits 44g of CO₂ per kilometre.

I can see that’s better than the other SUVs detailed in the guide, but I want some more context. My next step is to look at the Carbon Dioxide Emissions Intensity report by the National Transport Commission, which will give me an idea of how the Mitsubishi measures up against other new vehicles in Australia.

That report is a whopping 66 pages long, but the graph below is on page 21. It shows the range and average of CO₂ emissions of 2015 vehicle models, so I can see that the average medium SUV emits 175g per km, and the upper limit is over 250g per km. The Mitsubishi is therefore a pretty sound choice – it’s actually under the average emissions of all classes of new vehicles.

The average and the range of carbon dioxide emissions intensity of car models during 2015. The average emissions are represented by the horizontal lines and the range of emissions are represented by the vertical lines.
National Transport Commission

Ideally, finding a less environmentally damaging car would not take this much work.

The Green Vehicle Guide should compare all categories of new vehicles against the “best in class” chart on page 22 of the Carbon Dioxide Emissions Intensity report. Better still, manufacturers should have to provide this information in an easily understood way on each car they sell.

Such rankings would inform people whether the vehicle they are choosing is an eco-friendly brand, and put pressure on manufacturers to improve their Australian offerings.

Making it easy to find greener cars can have a big impact. If all Australians buying a new vehicle in 2015 had picked the “best in class” for their model, the national average for new car CO₂ emissions that year would have been 55% lower.

The government can help the environment and consumers by following the European Union’s example. This would mean imposing better industry standards and raising consumer awareness by providing information on car labels that is easily understood and transparent, such as ranking vehicles against colour coded CO2 emission bands. Until then, a little information and some homework can help you find the most eco-friendly vehicle for your needs.

Anna Mortimore, Lecturer, Griffith Business School, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.