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Sustainable Consumption Roundtable e-Bulletin No.2

21 February 2006

Fruit Seminar"Of all types of consumption, it is our food chain that has the most significant and diverse impacts on our environment and society."

In our second e-bulletin...

Event Report: Supermarket Seminar

Where do you spend most of your food budget? In the UK, it is a pretty safe bet that for most people the answer would be a supermarket. Supermarkets provide us with an almost overwhelming choice of foodstuffs, household products and, increasingly, things such as televisions and clothes. With Tesco announcing more record breaking profits in 2005, it seems the supermarket blend of convenience, accessibility and low prices remains extremely popular with the majority of UK shoppers.

As a result, supermarkets command correspondingly massive market power over food supply chains as well as being a big influence over what we buy, what we eat and how we dispose of the rubbish.

In order to grapple with these issues, the Roundtable held a ‘Supermarket Seminar’ at the end of June to explore the opinions of food retailers, Government and other stakeholders on what the role of supermarkets should be in facilitating more sustainable consumption in the UK.

Of all types of consumption, it is our food chain that has the most significant and diverse impacts on our environment and society. A new draft report by the European Commission reaches the conclusion that food accounts for 31 per cent of the global warming potential of products consumed within the EU(1).

Our seminar was held during the consultation period on the Government’s draft Food Industry Sustainability Strategy (FISS) that is hoping to encourage the food industry to tackle many of these issues. Read the Consultation here.

The FISS aims to provide a strategic direction and priorities for the food industry beyond the farm-gate. The Roundtable’s response to this consultation was informed by our discussions at the event. Read a copy of our submission.

The Supermarket Seminar was chaired by Roundtable Co-Chair Alan Knight, with speakers Rowland Hill, CSR manager at Marks & Spencer, Bill Vorley, Head of Sustainable Markets Group, IIED and Callton Young, Head of Defra’s Food and Drink Industry Division.

FreewayThe Impact of Our Food Chain

The impacts of our food chain arise in numerous ways both in the UK and globally, from production and packaging through to distribution, consumption and disposal. Many of the impacts occur after the food is produced. For example, the supermarket distribution system is primarily road based, and the large fleets of lorries use considerable amounts of fossil fuels, contributing to local air pollution and road congestion. The Industry also accounts for around 10% of industrial water use and commercial waste(2).

Once we have got our shopping home the problems continue. Land filling of food waste is a major source of methane emissions, the most potent greenhouse gas, a big villain in the fight against climate change. This is on top of the dwindling landfill space needed to dispose of food packaging. Finally, as highlighted in Jamie Oliver’s ‘Feed me better’ campaign the food we eat also has a significant impact on our physical and mental health. For further reading try the NCC Report Rating Retailers for Health.

Event Report: The Sustainable Consumption Roundtable in Cardiff

The SCR also held a breakfast meeting in Cardiff on Wednesday 15 June to engage the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) and key Welsh stakeholders in the work of the Roundtable. The Minister for the Environment, Planning and Countryside, Carwyn Jones, spoke about the challenge of delivering the commitment to reducing consumption in the Sustainable Development Action Plan. Procurement and planning are key areas where Wales may be able to take a lead within its powers.

The event drew upon the valuable experience of Wales in addressing consumption issues, and in particular the work of Professor Kevin Morgan at Cardiff University on sustainable school meals, and that of the Welsh Consumer Council on attitudes to sustainable consumption. These lessons will be reflected when the Roundtable presents its policy recommendations to Government in early 2006.

» Read the notes from the event (PDF)

The discussion also explored what support might be needed from Whitehall and other sectors to realise the commitment on ‘Reducing Consumption’ made in the Welsh Sustainable Development Action Plan 2004-07.

The Roundtable are planning to engage with the Devolved Administrations and associated stakeholders in Edinburgh and Belfast later this year.

News: Our Workplan

The Roundtable has drawn up a comprehensive work plan of action. The key themes include:

1) Strategic Vision
Advancing a radical, intellectually robust vision of how the UK could to move towards more sustainable consumption, exploring business and lifestyle implications of consuming differently within ecological limits.

2) Shifting the field of choice
Focusing on consumer products, this work stream is looking at ‘shifting the field of choice’ towards sustainability. The Roundtable is exploring what mandate exists among consumers for interventions to make sustainable choices more available, and remove unwanted unsustainable choices.

3) Sustainable Lifestyles
This work stream is applying the theory outlined in chapter two of the new Sustainable Development Strategy, “Securing the Future” in order to help people make better choices. The Roundtable is developing ideas on how Government can meet people half way by enabling, encouraging and exemplifying. The work has focused on those behaviours with the biggest environmental and social impact.

4) Sustainable Consumption: The new Frontier for Corporate Social Responsibility
This work stream is developing Sustainable Consumption as a new frontier for Corporate Responsibility. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for businesses as they grasp the implications to their business model and product offer for the shift towards consuming differently within ecological limits.

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Sustainable Consumption Roundtable home page

(1)Environmental Impact of products (EIPRO): Analysis of the life cycle environmental impacts related to the total final consumption of the EU25 (2005)
(2)Source: FISS
Images: Project for Public Spaces

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