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



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Canned tuna is an Australian pantry staple.
NOAA

Candice Visser, University of Wollongong and Quentin Hanich, University of Wollongong

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


Tuna is the most popular canned fish eaten in Australia and one of the most popular fish produced worldwide. The total catch of tuna in 2013 was about 7.4 million tonnes.

Tuna is a massive industry and most of this catch ends up in cans. But while each can of tuna might look similar, the environmental impacts of different brands vary. So, with a sea of “eco-friendly” labels and choices, how do you know which is the most sustainable?


Read more: Australian endangered species – Southern Bluefin Tuna


Almost all Australian canned tuna is imported

Australia produces large amounts of high-end seafood such as rock lobster, abalone and fresh tuna, but most of this doesn’t end up in our supermarkets – it is exported to countries willing to pay more. Instead, roughly 70% of all seafood eaten in Australia is imported. Most of this includes lower-value products such as frozen fish, frozen prawns and canned tuna.

Cans of tuna line the supermarket shelves. Which one is the choice for the sustainable shopper?
www.shutterstock.com

Australia is a major market for canned tuna. Almost all of the canned tuna sold here comes from Thailand, which processes about half of the world’s tuna supply. It is now almost impossible to buy Australian-produced canned tuna since large-scale production in Australia ended in May 2010.

While it is not unusual for a developed country to import large amounts of seafood, Australia is failing to meet international standards for sustainable seafood trade. Australia has strict requirements for seafood exports, but seafood imports are largely unregulated. This means it can be difficult to know if the imported seafood you buy was caught sustainably or even legally.

Catching 7.4 million tonnes of tuna

High global demand drives unsustainable fishing practices. These practices include overfishing, issues related to bycatch (which is the accidental catch of other marine animals like dolphins, turtles and seabirds), and “illegal, unregulated and unreported” (IUU) fishing. Now, 77% of the world’s fisheries are fished at their limit or beyond.

Of the many different types of tuna species, skipjack tuna is the most sustainable option.
FAO

Unsustainable fishing practices have devastating effects on the health of the marine ecosystem and the livelihoods of fishers. With this in mind, it is more important than ever to know about the origin of your fish.

Some species of tuna are fished at sustainable rates, whereas others are overfished. The most common species that end up in cans are skipjack and yellowfin tuna. Both of these species have sustainable stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). Skipjack also has sustainable stocks in the Indian Ocean. Higher-value species such as bigeye and bluefin varieties are usually reserved for sushi and sashimi markets. Southern bluefin tuna is overfished and is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.


Read more: Australian endangered species: southern bluefin tuna


The type of catch matters

The most sustainable fishing methods for tuna are “pole-and-line” and “FAD-free purse seine”. However, each method has a catch.

Pole-and-line fishing is used to catch tuna species one fish at a time.
Paul Hilton/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Pole-and-line fishing is the traditional method of using a pole, line and hook to catch fish. The rate of bycatch is small because fishers can catch and release non-tuna species. However, bait fish are used to attract the tuna, which can have a large impact if the bait fish is not caught in a sustainable way. Due to the labour-intensive nature of pole-and-line fishing and dependence on bait fish, this method makes up only a small proportion of the total tuna caught and is unable to supply tuna in large amounts.

Purse seine catches tuna by surrounding them with a net and hauling the catch up to the ship. When a FAD device is used, bycatch can also be caught.
FAO

Purse seine fisheries use a large net to surround a school of fish. In recent years purse seiners have increasingly used fish aggregating devices (FAD) to attract tuna and increase their efficiency. However, FADs also attract bycatch and juvenile tuna and are poorly regulated. Therefore, only purse seine fisheries that set on free-swimming schools of tuna are considered sustainable.

Quick guide to better tuna

Quick guide: The right can of tuna.
Author provided

What can you do?

1. Read the label

Examine the details on the back of the can for tuna species, fishing method and catch location. There are sustainable options for each of these categories.

The best approach is to opt for skipjack before yellowfin or other tuna varieties. Next, choose tuna caught using “pole-and-line” or “FAD-free purse seine” before “longline” or “purse seine”. Then, check for tuna caught in the Western Central Pacific Ocean – this may appear on the can as FAO Nr. 71. If the can doesn’t at least identify the species or fishing method, it’s probably not worth your time.

2. Consider eco-labels over unverified self-claims

Eco-labels and eco-claims often feature prominently on tuna cans. Eco-labels are market-based tools used to promote sustainable practices. Decoding them can seem challenging, but it doesn’t have to be.

Dolphin-safe labels only focus on the impacts of fishing on dolphins.
NOAA

First, it is important to recognise that a dolphin-safe label is not a sustainability label. It focuses only on the impacts of fishing on dolphins. Dolphin-safe doesn’t consider tuna catch levels or other socio-environmental impacts. Most importantly, it doesn’t require independent third-party verification.

In contrast, some newer eco-labels consider a wider set of impacts including target species stock levels, impact on other species and even the social impact on fishers – such as fair pay and work conditions.

So far, MSC is the only label to be recognised by the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI), but keep in mind this label is not without criticism.

Look for MSC certification that is sustainable and eco-friendly.
deckhand/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

In recent months, the MSC-certified Pasifical brand has been criticised because its FAD-free purse seine sourced tuna are transported on vessels that can also catch FAD-caught purse seine tuna. Some commentators argue that this enables unsustainable FAD-caught fisheries to continue operating.

On the other hand, MSC has the strongest chain of custody. It can trace every can of tuna from the supermarket shelf all the way back to the fishery. It’s not clear whether the original criticism was driven by competition for supermarket shelf space, as some industry insiders have claimed.


Read more: Here’s why your sustainable tuna is also unsustainable


3. Download seafood guides

Various online guides are also available to help consumers choose sustainable seafood options. These guides rank and recommend seafood using a stoplight system. The recommendations are based on available scientific research or a defined set of criteria.

In Australia, Greenpeace publishes a Canned Tuna Guide that ranks available brands. Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide provides recommendations for seafood generally.

Guides are also produced by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch for the US, Ocean Wise for Canada and WWF’s Fish Forward Project for South Africa and several countries in the EU and Asia.

4. Future technologies, supply chains and transparency

While the steps above assist with making sustainable seafood choices, it doesn’t help if the fish you’re buying has been mislabelled. There is still uncertainty related to transparency and traceability in the supply chain.

To help combat this problem, Coles has partnered with WWF to ensure the seafood it sells is sustainably sourced. Aldi has also introduced an initiative called “Trace Your Tuna” to link tuna to its catch location.

New applications that use tracking data are also developing. Apps are available that scan QR codes and barcodes to provide consumers with extra information about the origins of lots of different products including seafood. These include Oziris in Australia, ThisFish in Canada and the Seafood Traceability System offered by the Korean government.

Simultaneously, new initiatives such as Global Fishing Watch are providing open access to vessel movement data, providing tremendous opportunities for transparency and traceability.

The ConversationIn short, the easiest way to make a sustainable choice when buying canned tuna is to check the contents label and look for a credible eco-label. If you have a little more time, it might be worthwhile to check out seafood recommendation guides or to download a product tracking app on your smartphone.

Candice Visser, PhD Candidate, University of Wollongong and Quentin Hanich, Associate Professor, University of Wollongong

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

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


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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


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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.

Sustainable shopping: here’s how to find coffee that doesn’t cost the Earth



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With so many choices for coffee, it’s hard to know which is the environmentally healthy option.
Shutterstock

Aaron Gove, Curtin 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 first instalment of our Sustainable Shopping series, in which we ask experts to provide easy, eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. The Conversation


The morning coffee ritual is serious business; Australians drink roughly 16.3 million coffees a day. Plenty of news coverage has been devoted to its health benefits and cultural significance, but how much do you know about the environmental cost of your daily latte?

Coffee is grown in some of the most biologically diverse regions of the world, sometimes causing significant damage. But there are choices you can make to reduce the ecological impact of your caffeine fix.

The issue

Coffee mostly affects tropical forests, as they are cleared to make way for coffee farms. But with certain cultivation practices, these coffee farms can support an impressive range of forest biodiversity.

The world’s most popular coffee type, Coffea arabica, grows under the rainforest canopies of Ethiopia. A natural requirement for shade means coffee is often cultivated under shading plants, from a single tree species to a diverse range of plant life.

However, to improve productivity, traditional coffee farms have been increasingly replaced with sun-tolerant coffee varieties that produce higher yields. Compared with shaded coffee, these simplified plantations support fewer native species, store less carbon, experience higher levels of erosion, and leach more nutrients. They also require more resources such as water and fertilisers.

Coffee grows in the shade on a farm in Jinotega, Nicaragua.
REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

How can we increase sustainability?

The most important choice when it comes to sustainable coffee is the actual coffee and its cultivation. Cultivation can contribute as little as 1% or as much as 70% of the total environmental footprint of a cup of coffee. How the coffee is consumed (instant, fresh grounds or pods, for instance) has less influence.

The lowest-impact coffee is grown using traditional cultivation methods with minimal mechanisation. At the other extreme are large farms that are highly mechanised and require more fertiliser and pesticides.

A combination of traditional cultivation methods, maintaining shading plants, protecting local forests and buffering waterways (filtering farmland runoff with vegetation before it enters waterways), has the lowest environmental impact.

What can you do?

While searching for your daily dose of caffeine, you have probably come across several different sustainability certification logos. They are the easiest way to find out about how your coffee is cultivated, and have proved effective in protecting coffee landscapes from degradation.

The two most prominent certification programs are The Rainforest Alliance and Australian Certified Organic.

Coffee bean bag with Rainforest Alliance logo.
Karen Christine Hibbard/Flickr, CC BY-NC

The Rainforest Alliance requires a level of native vegetation to be maintained within each coffee farm. There is some criticism that the alliance has watered down its criteria in recent years, at least in terms of maintaining diverse shading vegetation. However, their certification leads to positive outcomes such as protection of waterways and native vegetation.

Australian Certified Organic certifies coffee roasters such as Coffex, Coffico and Rio Coffee.
Australian Certified Organic

Australian Certified Organic is focused on protecting natural habitats and biodiversity, efficient water use, and minimising the use of chemicals in fertilisers and pest and disease management. These practices are strongly aligned with traditional coffee cultivation.

While certification programs are not perfect, logos can certainly act as a guide to sustainable products.

That said, products without logos aren’t necessarily unsustainable. Some small landholders with highly sustainable, shade-grown coffee can’t afford the expense of certification.

In this situation you can talk to your local roaster (or a distant one via the internet). Roasters may have direct relationships with their coffee growers and can tell you about their cultivation practices. Good questions to ask are whether the cooperative has any certification, whether the cultivation is organic or shade-grown, and whether the cooperative has any associated environmental programs.

Ultimately, a little knowledge of coffee cultivation and its impacts can go a long way in making wise and environmentally sound purchases. There is a huge range of coffee choices available, and good evidence that the choices you make can influence significant and positive environmental outcomes.

Aaron Gove, Adjunct Lecturer, Environment and Agriculture, Curtin University

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

Climate action is the key to Australia achieving the Sustainable Development Goals


Nina Lansbury Hall, The University of Queensland; Dani J. Barrington, The University of Queensland, and Russell Richards, The University of Queensland

Australia will join the 71st United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. Some of the discussion will focus on progressing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as agreed at the UN last year.

Australia is a signatory to the goals, but it is difficult to know where to begin, as the goals are further broken down into 169 targets. These range from eradicating extreme poverty to developing measurements of progress on sustainable development.

But new research from the University of Queensland reveals that actions on climate change (SDG 13) and global partnerships (SDG 17) are likely to influence all other efforts by Australia to achieve the other SDGs.

Australia’s role in sustainable development

The SDGs form part of the UN development agenda, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, released in September 2015.

Unlike the preceding UN Millennium Development Goals, which ran until 2015, the SDGs apply to all countries and citizens to create a common outlook, irrespective of the country’s level of development. The new goals are to be achieved by 2030.

The Australian government has emphasised the role of the SDGs in reinforcing economic growth, development and investment in the Indo-Pacific region, and has assigned the SDGs to the portfolios of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and Environment.

Australia’s support for the SDGs is laudable. But the focus on international trade and investment, with responsibilities placed in only two portfolios, limits Australia’s potential for significant social, economic and environmental improvement on the SDGs at home and abroad.

But where do we start?

Part of the challenge of the SDGs is their complexity and the way they link together. This may explain Australia’s limited approach to date.

To help navigate this web of goals, we mapped the most influential goals. We found the goals that affect all the others are climate action (SDG 13) and global partnerships (SDG 17), as shown in the figure below. Without these, the other goals are very difficult to attain.

Proposed relationships between 17 UN Sustainable Development Targets
Global Change Institute, UQ

For example, the increased intensity of extreme weather events due to climate change will likely make it harder to achieve clean drinking water under SDG 6. In droughts, less water is available, and in floods, the water is often contaminated. Both events result in the proliferation of diseases.

These findings also identified that the goal for health and wellbeing (SDG 3) is the ultimate goal: every other SDG contributes towards this outcome. For example, a woman who has given birth to a daughter cannot achieve optimal physical, social and mental wellbeing for herself and her child without proper nutrition (SDG 2), access to clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), gender equality (SDG 5) and adequate financial resources (SDG 1).

We also found that within SDG 6, implementing the integrated water resources management target (6.5) enables the other SDG 6 targets to be met. Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin is a good example of this type of approach. There, states negotiated across borders to reduce salinity, minimise extractions and improve water quality.

Can we do it?

Linking together these goals will require high-level government co-ordination beyond merely the DFAT and environment portfolios.

Our policy analysis found that no single portfolio can take responsibility for the entire set of 17 SDGs – and that all 21 government departments have more than one SDG relevant to their responsibilities.

Australia’s ability to progress the SDGs in Australia and overseas is likely to be more attainable with the involvement and cross-collaboration of other portfolios.

Damaged and polluted waterways affect the ability to attain the Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation (SDG 6).
Sanjog Chakraborty

The UN SDGs are an opportunity for Australia’s efforts towards sustainable development to be recognised on a global stage. To achieve progress on this complex agenda we have to understand that climate action and global partnerships are crucial to sustainable development and ultimately to health and wellbeing.

The Conversation

Nina Lansbury Hall, Sustainable Water Program Manager, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland; Dani J. Barrington, Lecturer, Global Change Institute, Honorary Fellow, School of Public Health, The University of Queensland, and Russell Richards, , The University of Queensland

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

Study: Australians can be sustainable without sacrificing lifestyle or economy


Steve Hatfield-Dodds, CSIRO

A sustainable Australia is possible – but we have to choose it. That’s the finding of a paper published today in Nature.

The paper is the result of a larger project to deliver the first Australian National Outlook report, more than two years in the making, which CSIRO is also releasing today.

As part of this analysis we looked at whether achieving sustainability will require a shift in our values, such as rejecting consumerism. We also looked at the contributions of choices made by individuals (such as consuming less water or energy) and of choices made collectively by society (such as policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions).

We found that collective policy choices are crucial, and that Australia could make great progress to sustainability without any changes in social values.

Competing views

Few topics generate more heat, and less light, than debates over economic growth and sustainability.

At one end of the spectrum, “technological optimists” suggest that the marvellous invisible hand will take care of everything, with market-driven improvements in technology automatically protecting essential natural resources while also improving living standards.

Unfortunately, there is no real evidence to back this, particularly in protecting unpriced natural resources such as ocean fisheries, or the services provided by a stable climate. Instead the evidence suggests we are already crossing important planetary boundaries.

Other the other end of the spectrum, people argue that achieving sustainability will require a rejection of economic growth, or a shift in values away from consumerism and towards a more ecologically attuned lifestyles. We refer to this group as advocating “communitarian limits”.

A third “institutional reform” approach argues that policy reform can reconcile economic and ecological goals – and is attacked from one side as anti-business alarmism, and from the other as indulging in pro-growth greenwash.

Income up, environmental pressures down

My colleagues and I have spent much of the past two years developing a new framework to explore how Australia can decouple economic growth from multiple environmental pressures – including greenhouse emissions, water stress, and the loss of native habitat.

We use nine linked models to assess interactions between energy, water and food (and links to ecosystem services) in the context of climate change.

The National Outlook focuses on the intersection of water, energy and food.
National Outlook Report, CSIRO

The project provides projections for more than 20 scenarios, exploring different potential trends for consumption and working hours; energy and resource efficiency; agricultural productivity; new land-sector markets for energy feedstocks and ecosystem services; national and global abatement efforts, climate, and global economic growth.

While our major focus is on Australia, at the national scale, we also model what might happen globally, and at more detailed state and local scales within Australia.

We find economic growth and environmental impacts can be decoupled − in the right circumstances. National income per person increases by 12-15% per decade from now to 2050, while the value of economic activity almost triples.

In stark contrast to income, which rises across all scenarios, environmental performance varies widely. Key environmental indicators such as greenhouse gas emissions, water stress, and native habitat and biodiversity are projected to more than double, stabilise, or fall across different scenarios to 2050.

As shown in the chart below, we find that energy rises in all scenarios, but that greenhouse emissions can fall at the same time – with the right choices and technologies. Water use can also rise without increasing extractions from already stressed catchments. Food output (here indicated by protein) can increase, while native habitat is restored.


Hatfield-Dodds et al (2015)

Many of the 20 scenarios explored would represent substantial progress towards sustainable prosperity.

Indeed, we find that Australia could begin to repair past damage: restoring significant areas of native habitat and achieving negative emissions (net sequestration) of greenhouse gasses.

Growth of what?

We use the normal definition of economic growth as measured by increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – the value of goods and services produced in an economy – consistent with the national accounts framework.

Some authors use a different definition, most notably Herman Daly a leading advocate for a steady state economy. Daly defines growth as an increase in physical economic scale, such as resource extraction, and goes on to argue that indefinite (material) economic growth is not possible.

While this may be true, for his definition, it can be confusing for people that do not realise he is not referring to GDP growth. Indeed, Daly recently acknowledged that economic (GDP) growth is possible with finite resources and steady material throughput.

These definitions matter: we project growth (GDP – measured in real dollars, adjusted for inflation) increases by more than 160% in scenarios where domestic material extractions and throughput (measured in tonnes) decreases by around 40%.

Choosing a sustainable future

But here is the real crunch: we find these substantial steps toward sustainability could build on policy approaches that are already in place in Australia or other countries. This implies Australia could make enormous progress towards a more sustainable future without a major change in what we value.

We can be confident that a values shift is not required to achieve these outcomes – at least before 2050 – because none of the scenarios we modelled assume change in values or a new social or environmental ethic.

Instead, we show that people will make choices to change their behaviour to make the best of particular policy settings. These choices shape production and consumption.

For instance, we consider increasing Australia’s climate effort in line with other countries would be consistent with Australian public opinion and assessments of Australia’s national interest in limiting the rise in average global temperature to 2°C. So we do not interpret this as implying a change in values.

But we find collective choices are crucial. For example, individual choices about whether to drive or catch a train to work are strongly shaped by prior collective choices about transport infrastructure. Collective choices are often, but not always implemented through changes in government policy, legislation, and programs.

We find collective choices explain around 50-90% of differences in environmental performance and resource use across the scenarios we model. Consistent with the institutional reform approach, we find top-down collective choices are particularly important in shaping “public good” outcomes – accounting for at least 83% of the difference between scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions.

Bottom-up individual choices play a greater role when private and public benefits are aligned. For instance individual choices account for up to half of the difference between scenarios for energy use (33–47%) and non-agricultural water consumption (16–53%).

While individual choices are important, we find decisions we make as a society are likely to shape Australia’s future sustainability more than the decisions we make as businesses and households.

Sustainable prosperity is possible, but not predestined. Australia is free to choose.


Steve will be on hand for an Author Q&A between 9:30 and 10:30am AEDT on Friday, November 6, 2015. Post your questions in the comments section below.

The Conversation

Steve Hatfield-Dodds, Chief Scientist, Integration science and public policy, CSIRO

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

Earth Day: April 22


Earth Day is about the earth and the people who live on it. The Earth Day Network believes that all people, no matter who they are, have a right to a healthy and sustainable environment. Those who support Earth Day are a veritable who’s who of environmentalism. The network not only educates and increases awareness of environmental issues, it also actively seeks to bring about change in order to achieve a healthy and sustainable environment.

Earth Day is celebrated on the 22nd April each year, with supporters getting involved in all manner of environmentally responsible activities.

Find out more about Earth Day and the Earth Day Network at:

http://www.earthday.org/