Consumers often find it difficult to understand the impact of their habits, let alone make sustainable choices. A new report from the Nordic Council of Ministers maps our consumption habits through the lens of sustainability and identifies areas in which the people of the Region could make a significant difference to the climate and support the green transition by changing their everyday habits.
The new report analyses the climate impact of private households in the Nordic countries on the basis of four themes: housing, transport, food and consumer goods. Paula Lehtomäki, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers, explains the reasoning behind the report:
“Household consumption is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions but is often not included in the national accounts. Sweden is the only Nordic country to include it in official statistics, as a supplement to national emissions data. For this reason, the new report is an important tool for Nordic co-operation and its vision of the Nordic Region being the most sustainable region in the world by 2030.
“The report gives us tangible tools for reducing climate emissions, and identifies focus areas for Nordic co-operation – From the transition to green energy, the use of air travel and to the consumption of meat in public-sector canteens,” stresses Paula Lehtomäki, Secretary General, Nordic Council of Ministers.
Transport is the most polluting category in Nordic household consumption
Transport is the single largest contributor to consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions from Nordic households, accounting for approximately 30–40% of the total. Among the various transport options, air travel accounts for the highest emissions. In the report, the researchers point out that the greatest potential for more sustainable transport lies in reducing the volume of short-haul flights, as data show that Nordic consumers would like to find an alternative solution for shorter journeys, if one was available.
Another option for more climate-friendly transport involves switching from fossil fuels to electricity.The report identifies the differences between the countries when it comes to the number of electric cars. Norway leads the way with approximately 10% of cars in 2019,followed by Iceland at approx. 4% and the other countries all under 1%. One reason identified in the report for the comparatively high number in Norway is the relative popularity of its financial incentive scheme.
Too much red meat
In terms of food, the production of red meat is responsible for the largest volume of climate emissions. According to the report, the Danes eat the most beef – an average of 24 kg per person per annum, followed by the Swedes on 23 kg and the Finns on 19 kg. About 40% of Nordic food is imported, and about 50% of food emissions stem from production in other countries.
Senior researcher and project manager for the study, Annelise de Jong of the Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL), identifies the negative “spillover” effects in other countries – both environmental and social – of Nordic consumption:
This report reveals the true impact of Nordic consumption on other countries in terms of climate emissions, the environment and social conditions. It is clear that we need to reduce things like long-haul flights and our consumption of certain types of food and luxury products. We also need to make sure that basic human rights are respected in the countries that produce our goods. Most of our clothes, for example, come from other countries.
Eight initiatives to make consumption more sustainable
As well as analysing consumption, the report also recommends eight specific ways of making it more sustainable:
- Switch from red to white meat
- Switch from meat to plant-based food
- Avoid food waste
- Cut the number of flights
- Switch from private vehicles to public or soft transport (e.g. bicycles)
- Extend the life of goods
- Respect human rights in countries that produce goods
- Reduce total private consumption in the Nordic Region.
About the report:
According to international rankings, the Nordic countries are much further ahead than other parts of the world when it comes to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. However, some goals appear to present particular challenges for the Nordic countries – especially SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production.
The report was drawn up for the Nordic Council of Ministers by the Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL). The report maps Nordic private household consumption, focusing on four themes; housing, transport, food and consumer goods.