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

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Ten business ideas that could work in Spain (Part II)

Spain's Startups Law is now in force, so if you're thinking about moving to Spain and starting up a business, here are ten niche ideas that have been successful abroad, but are still fairly new in Spain.

Ten business ideas that could work in Spain (Part II)

Back in November 2022, we published a list of nine bright business ideas that haven’t been exploited yet in Spain and now we’ve come up with 10 more to give those of you thinking of creating a startup here, lots of inspiration. 

Spain’s new Startups Law has many enticing perks and reduced tax rates for foreign digital nomads, entrepreneurs, investors and remote workers who want to start a business or work in Spain.

READ ALSO – New details: Spain’s rules and benefits for foreign startups

Networks against food waste

Food waste is a big issue in our society and lots of perfectly good food gets thrown out every day because it’s past its sell-by date. Companies like Too Good To Go have already started tackling this issue here in Spain, but there is still room for many more. The idea is to ​​create a sustainable business model that has a network of shops that can avoid throwing away perishable products by connecting them with customers who want discounted products that they have to consume quickly. 

DIY decoration stores

There are of course stores in Spain such as Leroy Merlin and Bricorama that sell everything you need for your home DIY projects, but what about a simpler type of shop that focuses just on décor instead of all the tools and technical parts that professionals use too?

In France, there are several chains of shops such as 4murs and Saint Maclou that do exactly this. They are solely dedicated to the decoration of walls and floors and sell items such as paints, tiles, wallpaper, rugs and curtains, items that the everyday person can use.

Machines to re-charge mobile phones and sell accessories

We’ve all been in that situation where we are out and our battery is really low and we’re scared of using our mobiles in case we run out of power and then we’re stuck, unable to contact anyone or even use Google Maps and find out where to go. While there are occasionally places to recharge your phones in airports or shopping malls in the larger Spanish cities, dedicated mobile charging stations could be the next great business idea.

In China, this is already a successful startup and now mobile charging vending machines can be found all over. They also allow customers to buy batteries, cables, headphones and chargers, something which some of the vending machines in Barcelona metro stations already do.

READ ALSO: Buying a franchise in Spain – the cheapest and best businesses to set up

A business that will look after the needs of your car

Busy car owners these days may not have the time to take care of their cars and carry out all the necessary cleaning and repairs. Here’s where your business could come in, offering a range of services from simple tasks like washing or something a little more complicated such as taking your car to the garage to pass its ITV (MOT) test.  An example of this is Cafler, which has been dubbed the Glovo of the automotive sector.

A one-stop shop for all car services for the busy professional could be a successful idea. Photo: Dariusz Sankowski / Pixabay

Services for the over 65s

Spain has an aging population and experts predict that by 2035, in just 14 years, around one in four (26 percent) of Spaniards will be 65 or older. This opens the door for many types of businesses directly serving this age group. Examples of this are startups such as Viejenials, a company that is committed to alternative aging through modern dance for people over 50 or Sasoibide, a company that takes older people on nature walks to help combat loneliness.

Services to help students move abroad

Many Spanish students dream of moving abroad temporarily to help improve their English language skills, but an international move and all it entails can be quite a difficult and daunting task. As a foreigner, you could be in a great position to be able to market and organise relocation services and language packages in English-speaking countries such as the UK, US or even Australia.

Companies such as YouTOOProject have already been successful at helping to solve problems that arise during students’ stays in their new countries.

Rent a butler  

Butlers may just be for the upper classes you think, or only if you lived in the past, such as during the time of Downton Abbey, but renting a butler for events or parties is becoming more and more popular. ByMayordomos is web portal that offers people the possibility of having a specialised butler at short notice, but there are lots of possibilities for more companies to do something similar.

A business to rent a butler could take off in Spain. Photo: Vic Padilla / Pixabay

Services for the self-employed and small businesses

Spain has around 3.3 million self-employed people or autónomos, which accounts for 16 percent of the population. This means that there’s plenty of scope to set up businesses aimed at this sector. There are plenty of gestores (similar to accountants) helping freelancers with their taxes, but there are lots of other services that could be offered such as consulting services, and helping people digitise their businesses by creating website, design or software.

Sustainable packaging companies

In January 2023, a new tax came into force in Spain on the use of non-reusable plastic packaging, and companies, particularly food manufacturers, as well as others, are desperately looking for ways to make their packaging more sustainable.

More and more entrepreneurs are betting on zero-waste business models and are looking for everything from boxes and labels to protective packaging to be sustainable and plastic free. Creating these types of solutions for other businesses could be a profitable idea.

At-home cooking classes

Most people sign up for a cooking class or school if they want to be taught by the professionals, but what about chefs who can go directly to your door? It could be a novel idea for parties or even as gifts for foodies.

As a foreigner, you could think up ideas that might not already be available here, such as sushi-making classes or learning how to make Mexican tortillas from scratch. It could focus on vegan cuisine, gluten-free cooking or even private classes for children or beginners. One company – Summumm, in Madrid has already made a success of similar services such as show-cooking at home too.