It’s October and breast cancer awareness month. And every year some of us wish that there would be a discussion about carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting substances in products instead of selling these products under the pink ribbon label. I can’t find a word on the Swedish site about carcinogenic substances. In contrast, I think we need to discuss this issue much more. Such a discussion would benefit the companies that face out harmful substances proactively, before regulation forces them to do so.
Overall, EU might do a better job than the US in regulating harmful substances but is still far from perfect. Sometimes the replacements are not necessarily better than the original substance, as these researchers discuss. Interestingly, the researchers found that people eating out are more exposed to the harmful substances because for example restaurants use packaging not allowed for individual customers.
What else can we do? Be careful about personal care products. Avoid packaging when possible. Here I see the zero waste movement as an inspiration. Using refillable mugs, you avoid the BPA in paper cups. Shopping at the farmers market, you get your vegetables in paper bags instead of individually wrapped plastic. And obviously, not buying new stuff, when you don’t really need to, is not only cheap but reduces your chemical exposure too.
It’s October again and that means Slow Fashion October, a very inspiring initiative by Karen Templer of Fringe Association that I’ve been following and joined for the last two years. This year Karen has taken a more action-oriented approach. Instead of mostly reflecting on what slow fashion is, focus is also on doing. Week 1 is about getting clear about what one’s look or style is. Knowing your style helps you acquire only clothes that you want to wear and care for a really long time.
Being an academic, of course I start to wonder what we really mean with style. And do we really need to know this style to want to wear and care for our wardrobe?
As for the first question, I would distinguish between the style I aspire too, that I love as an idea, and the style that I practice. Is my style the stylish outfits I picture myself in (that I might never achieve but always strive for) or how I dress in practice most of the days?
According to this distinction, my style-in-practice is what I end up wearing most days. My style-in-practice is really created when I try on my own clothes in different combinations, faced with the weather conditions and what feels comfortable on my body that day. Sometimes I end up looking less than I aimed for and other times I look like I overdid it. Me Made May is probably a good display of one’s style-in-practice. Just as a sweater I knitted might not end up the way I aimed for but I still somehow like and wear it. Is this still my style?
Or is my style the stylish ideals I wish I looked like. This style ambition is displayed in the pictures I save on Instagram for example. This style ambition changes in a faster and more unpredictable pace than my style-in-practice. The ambition can shift slightly from a day to another based on what some stylish girl wore on the street or what’s displayed in the very convincingly styled fashion shoots and on celebrities. And most of it is never realized as these ideas float by faster than I manage do something with them and there are so many of them. Many times I simply move on to new ideas before I realize anything.
Is there a connection between the style ambition and the style practice? I say yes, there can be, I believe, a connection. But it is difficult to maintain a close connection because these pictures are not necessarily adapted to my body type or the weather outside my door, realities that I cannot avoid when getting dressed. Another reason a close connection between ambition and practice is difficult is because the ambition sways slightly from a day to another, the wardrobe, alas, stays robustly the same. This creates dissatisfaction- the wardrobe doesn’t allow me to embrace the style ambition wholeheartedly. I’m stuck with lots of clothes that doesn’t fit the (new) inspiration. But it is also practically a good thing. There are, after all, mostly tried and tested foot soldiers in the wardrobe.
Should there be a close connection between the style ambition and practice? During my shopping days the style ambition sometimes guided new purchases. This might sound strategic, like what the fashion magazines tell you to do- write a list of the new items you need for the season. But that autumn Hedi Slimane did grunge. No, those purchases and not my best ones. Luckily those grungy boots survived bad weather really well and were thus found useful even when the grunge ambition had vanished.
So, for me, the style ambition is a whimsical friend that cannot be fully trusted. Moreover, even when I do follow the ambition, the end result rarely looks as planned. So because the style ambition is so very sensitive to outside influences and is so good at creating ‘wants’, I find it useful to limit these outside influences that might induce the ambition to shout for new colors and shapes that are not found in my current wardrobe. Instead of this way searching for ‘me’ among other peoples’ images, I wish to dig deeper into my style-in-practice and the everyday creativity that this constitutes. Would knowing this style-in-practice better help? Maybe. But many of the good outfits are happy accidents that had no stylish idea behind it or conscious motive*. This style is also a result of the many happy accidents that occur when mending, refashioning, sewing and knitting.
So while I’m not convinced by the design your wardrobe strategy, from style idea to practice, I do believe in the hands-on approach of needles and threads and trying on lots of combinations. But maybe there’s a better way to create style? Please tell me.
* A fellow academic blog reader may trace some inspiration for this blog post to Nils Brunsson’s “Ideas and actions” paper from 1992 where he criticizes the assumption that ideas must be expressed before they can be transformed into action.
As I’ve written about before, I was not an early adopter of the circular economy. I do, however, teach circular economy as a trend in the sustainability area both at Örebro University and NHH. The more I reflect on the concept, the more of a convert I’ve become. So I thought I’d share some of my aha-moments about the circular economy and sustainability with you here.
First of all, what do we mean with sustainability? The established definition is from the UN Brundtland report (1987):
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
As Kuhlman & Farrington (2010) (one of our key references in the NHH course) writes, this sustainability definition addresses the tension between mankind’s aspiration towards a better life on the one hand and the limitations imposed by nature on the other hand. This tension between social welfare and natural resources is more often than not ignored in the business debate on sustainability. We often pretend it does not exist. And of course, there are many win-win situations where environmental or social measures also bring down costs and/or increase income. There are definitely low hanging fruit, efforts that are win-win or at least come at no cost.
However, there are cases where tension between social well-fare and environmental sustainability undoubtedly exists. The pharmaceutical industry is a prime example. The industry argues that it provides tremendous social benefit by saving lives (or at least reducing suffering) but the environmental pollution, especially chemical and water pollution, is high, both at production and consumption sites. Why do such tensions between social well-fare and natural resources occur?
Operating in a closed system
Some of you might have heard about the Planetary Boundaries. Professor Johan Rockström and co-authors defined nine environmental boundaries we should stay within to ensure a stable living environment (see picture, borrowed from the 2015 article). What this figure tells businesses is that we are operating in a closed system. If we mismanage certain environmental resources, such as biodiversity and chemical pollution, we cannot compensate for these in other ways. If we cross these, there is no functional living environment we can operate within.
Why a linear business model does not work in a closed system
Now the problem with a linear business model (which most businesses have and what we often teach students) is that it treats input to businesses (and its outputs) according to the value chain- the business uses certain input and through a number of processes produces some outputs. These inputs, resources, the business uses appear to just exist. The environment is there for us to use and not affected by our use. Likewise, outputs and externalities from our production just go somewhere. However, as the 1990 chapter on circular economy by Pearce and Turner states, eventually the waste we produce will affect the availability of new resources. And the accumulated waste affects our well-being too. The fact that business operates in a closed system has to be taken into account. Certainly for global businesses.
Now from the planetary boundaries perspective, the best would of course be to minimize consumption and for us to produce less in order to spare the environment and stay within the boundaries. This is in line with the minimalism and anti-consumerism movement. If we consume less, we do not need to produce so much. We can share, mend and repurpose etc. This is admirable and has a place, especially in societies with overconsumption. It is my approach to my own wardrobe situation. However, at this point in the debate, someone will throw in the argument that we cannot deny developing countries the same social benefits we have allowed ourselves. If we have been flying for decades, why shouldn’t they be able to?
Kate Raworth, with a background at Oxfam, illustrated this pedagogically in her ‘Doughnut Economics‘. It is a fact that there are large groups of people that are not getting their basic needs met. And to achieve progress on this point will in many cases require use of natural resources. Here, the tension between the social development and the availability of natural resources the Brundtland report sought to address is very clear.
Consequently, Raworth put those basic social needs into Rockström’s figure, in the middle, to illustrate that we want to maximize the social well-fare of people while at the same time staying within the planetary boundaries. We want to operate, she argues, within the green ‘doughnut’ formation in the figure.
Sustainability is getting the maximum social value while staying within the planetary boundaries
Working along the lines of minimizing and restricting consumption can, at least in some cases, thus deny us social value. Similarly, what many sustainability-minded businesses do is to try to minimize the waste and externalities from production. To reduce the ‘shadow’ of business, make them ‘tread lightly’ on the environment. There are many impressive initiatives with zero waste factories and water reduction regimes. These are all good, no doubt about it. We need these kinds of initiatives. However, the circular economy further adds that ‘waste’ should not simply be removed but could also become a resource for us to use. It’s a fact that we need some amount of production and that it uses resources and that there will be some amount of waste. What can we do with the remaining waste? How can we turn it into resources?
As this post is long enough, I will simply have to write about the challenges with making waste into circular resources in a follow up post. Still, I hope you see, like I do, why there is a case for circular business in a sustainable society. And I’m so excited about our case with H&M and what the students will come up with.
It’s three years this August since I gave up conventionally produced fashion. Three years ago I decided to only buy sustainably produced fashion. Many of the items I subsequently bought (Veja shoes, Serendipity organics sweater, my Palmgrens bag) are still wardrobe favorites. The only time I cheated was when buying a pair of Chloe pants at the sales that winter (that in the end didn’t fit me and ended up with my sister). One and a half years ago, I decided I actually didn’t need any new clothes at all. The same month I traveled to London during the sales and found it really challenging to resist shopping. I decided to not even enter the big department stores to resist fashion shopping. Shopping abroad and the sales- getting expensive fashion cheap- is somehow so very hard to resist.
It also seems that fashion is more difficult to abstain from than other kinds of shopping. I recently finished the book ‘Not buying it’ by Judith Levine. Levine and her husband decide to only buy the very necessary goods (basically groceries) during a year. The book is a personal reflection on this experiment. They obviously save lots of money but also find certain types of socializing tricky. Interestingly, the only times Levine does cheat is in the fashion department. One time she cannot resist a second hand store when on vacation. She cheats a second time at the sales of her favorite fashion brand. Thus of all the kinds of consumption she has to abstain from- restaurants, books, interior design- fashion turns out to be the most difficult. And particularly when traveling and at the sales.
Funnily enough, Levine uses some grey area shopping strategies, just like me. In the book, friends buy her cinema tickets and give her presents, things she isn’t allowed to buy herself, since she has the shopping-ban. Similarly, I’m getting a year’s supply of Swedish Stockings nylon stockings for my birthday (so excited to try them!). These days when family wonders what I would like for my birthday, I tend to want something very specific in the wardrobe area. Is this cheating? It’s at least a grey area. And a way for family members to give me something I very much need as a gift.
Levine’s ‘Not buying it’ initiative was partly motivated by financial reasons but also has a political undertone. Unlike her, I don’t see anything wrong in paying someone for a service or a good as long as you can afford it and its production and consumption is environmentally and socially sustainable. My own shopping-ban is a way to stop my own overconsumption of fashion. To use what I own and get a manageable size wardrobe.
The general problem is really that so much of our consumption is not environmentally and socially sustainable. If we fix this, change production and end-of-life processes so that they are sustainable or even circular, I don’t see any reason to limit consumption.
If you are not politically against financial transactions and/or markets, there is nothing wrong with paying someone for providing you with a sustainable service or good.
Already there, I had the opportunity to attend over 4000 seminars arranged during the week. There was no way to attend all of them, sadly since a large proportion dealt with sustainability issues. However, I managed to attend some seminars on sustainability and some others on research politics.
The panels discussing sustainability and consumption were very gloomy. ‘Consumption has to decrease’ and is ‘destroying our environment’ and ‘the politicians are not doing enough’ seemed to be the general message. I have some major issues with these kinds of statements. First, one has to define what is meant with consumption. Services such as child care and going to the hairdresser are also consumption. We can consume second hand items and probably should increase this type of consumption. Basically, we have to differentiate between different types of consumption and their effects on the environment. Instead KTH researchers from Mistra’s project on sustainable consumption painted with very large brushes and suggested we should both consume and work less. I don’t see how they arrived at this conclusion and am consequently not convinced. Neither are my consumption researcher colleagues when I’ve discussed the issue with them. Consumption per se is not evil, but certain types, such as flying or single use plastics, are bad for the environment.
One take away from Almedalen is thus that it was engineering researchers that discussed economics and business issues such as GDP, growth and consumption. One panel even stated that ‘it is probably just as good that there are no economists on the panel’. I, however, was missing the economics and business researchers and I believe that our presence on the panels would have improved the discussions. Instead, I was sitting in the audience wondering how they defined growth and how they could state that Sweden has substantial GDP growth (clearly they did not consider GDP per capita). Of course research is interdisciplinary, but when it comes to basic definitions in business and economics, researchers in these fields have an advantage: we have worked longer with these concepts.
Attending the social events, generally organized by companies, was a more encouraging experience. I ended up having drinks with the electric cars lobby (who knew they existed?) and attending Atea’s afternoon around the topic of sustainable supply chains in the IT sector and conflict minerals. It’s really encouraging that so much is happening on both these issues. Our partner for the master program, Spendrups, invited us to an entirely organic dinner celebrating that they are now the world’s largest producer of organic beer. My take away from the company discussions is that a lot can happen in a short period of time in the corporate world. And as soon as there is something that looks like a business case for addressing a sustainability issue, companies will race their competitors to get there.
The research politics seminars were also a positive surprise and dealt with topics such as research communication and open science. As for the latter, the panel agreed that professional research communicators are needed and that we today lack incentives for researchers to address the general public. If we want to communicate outside of academia, we have to do it in our spare time. As for the latter topic, it seems as if open science is coming our way and it’s just a matter of time and of exactly how the solutions will look like. The Swedish Research Council (‘Vetenskapsrådet’) is arranging a conference in November about open science which I will try to attend.
Overall, Almedalen was a highly inspiring week that was well worth attending even for a researcher (there were very few of us there) and I hope there will be opportunity to be back next year!
It’s challenging times to be in the knowledge business. Twitter followers question whether climate change is real and FB-followers question facts because they are published in unknown media. And when you don’t agree with someone else’s statement you call it alternative facts. This is, I guess, a sign that parts of the public question some commonly held facts.
While some see this as a dangerous development, that people question commonly held facts and hold alternative views, it is also an opportunity to dive further into the questioned facts and learn something in the process. To proclaim that ‘this is a fact, deal with it’ is unlikely to convince anyone. We teachers know that when our statements are questioned it forces us to learn and ‘know’ the issue on a more detailed level. Having commonly held facts questioned is a challenge for sure, but if we can defend them it’s generally worth the effort.
Unfortunately, some argue that those questioning our facts are driven by emotions and thus that logical arguments do not work. This is not a helpful picture to paint. Of course all of us are motivated by emotions. But if we would apply this at universities, that emotion is the motivation for questioning our teachings and that logical arguments is not an appropriate response, it’s a dangerous path to follow. Nobody wants to be treated as an emotional creature that cannot be reasoned with. In contrast, I would argue that many of us are convinced by logical arguments and remain unconvinced when we are left with incoherent arguments and told to ‘trust the expert’. Instead, if our commonly held facts are questioned, let’s sharpen our arguments further.
Increasingly, researchers are called upon to tell us if a fact is true or not. Are researchers suitable in the role as ‘ fact experts’? Why should researchers, and not others, be able to do this? Researchers are not experts because they work at a prestigious institution, have the professor-title or speak in a charismatic way. They are not better equipped to judge value issues, such as if one political measure is more valuable to the population than another (although we often think so ourselves). However, in certain cases researchers can help us when it comes to facts. It is true that researchers are, generally, good at handling facts because:
We are up to date on facts within our own field of research. This field, however, is usually quite narrow!
We use facts to test theories and potential explanations and are thus used to questioning and interpreting facts.
Occasionally, we develop facts. If facts are necessary for our research but unavailable, we might create them in order to conduct our research. These facts, such as the amount of plastic in the ocean or amount of companies with a sustainability strategy, can be of interest to the general public too.
Instead of raging against those that do not share our facts, don’t agree there is climate change etc., and labelling them alternative facts or anti- this or that, why not look at the explanations we provide. How pedagogical are we? Where are the weak points in our explanations? Which parts of the argument do they question? Do they have reasons to question these points? Can we support our statements further? We might just learn something about the issue and communication in the process.
Five months into 2018 and it turns out I was wrong. There have not been any urgent needs that I have had to address. Sure, I am running low on nylon stockings (but still I’ve managed 1,5 year using only my stash!). The boots are getting worn but they are still fine with a bit of leather balm. Clearly, I overestimate how much I wear items. In this part of the world, seasons change so fast so clothes/shoes are used only a few times before the weather is too warm/cold and the items get stored away again. The wardrobe gets worn oh so gently.
A friend asked how much time I spend mending. Yes, mending takes time. In fact, I’ve kept track of how much time I’ve spent mending the last four months. As a general pattern, I mend more when I have time to do so and less when I’m too busy. Only natural. What happens when I’m busy is that I get professional help with the mending and I’ve kept track on that too this year. So far it looks like this:
February: 32 min mending, no professional help
March: 15 min mending, professional help SEK 1600 (including mending, dry cleaning & shoes repair)
April: 10 min mending, professional help SEK 2600 (including dry cleaning & sewing)
May: 1,5 h mending, no professional help
So I don’t spend a lot of time mending, but when I do I get a lot done (17 mends overall). I had five occasions of professional mending/sewing to a totalt cost of SEK2500. Two instances of shoes repair to a total of SEK 500.
From a financial perspective, it makes sense to mend things yourself. It’s fast and cheap. However, in very busy times, it might make sense to get help and save the stress of possibly not having the clothes ready for when you need them. I get help with mending and sewing from my dry cleaner and yes the cost adds up. Above all, less dry cleaning would save both the environment and my wallet. In once instance, I successfully avoided the dry cleaner by washing outerwear in the washing machine, after realising that it was mostly cotton and thus supposedly washable despite the label saying dry cleaning. Shoes repair I’m happy to leave to the professionals at all times.
I’m also happy to report that almost half way through 2018, my wardrobe is minus 2 items. I went plus 8 when I inherited some clothes, mostly outerwear, from my great-aunt. In addition, since January, I’ve worn out 10 items (mostly basics). Since I don’t expect to suddenly inherit more clothes (fingers crossed!) and if I successfully keep other temptations at bay, I hope the wardrobe content will decrease even more. I am, as we speak, selling a pair of hardly worn Converse All Stars on auction site Tradera. That’s another minus one.
So to sum up, my commitment this year was to adhere to Sara Lazarovic’s ‘Buyerarchy of needs’ but so far I’ve stayed at the bottom, in the category ‘Use what you have’. Which means that I’ve now managed 1,5 years without wardrobe shopping and, since the start, reduced my wardrobe with six items. It’s safe to say that I will never have a minimalist wardrobe. And that’s not the issues here either. I love my clothes. I just need to wear them instead of getting new ones all the time.
April ended with Fashion Revolution week, a yearly event that commemorates the Rana Plaza disaster (and which I’ve blogged about before). This year marked its five year anniversary and brands such as Danish Serendipity Organics and Swedish Asket answered the challenge and showed their customers how their products are made. Fashion Revolution week thus clearly has an impact on companies and encourages another level of traceability in the supply chain. It’s not enough to know where things are made, but also by whom, how and by what materials. I’m already looking forward to next year, new companies accepting the challenge and seeing where this movement will lead.
As a very appropriate follow-up, May starts with the social media event ‘Me made May‘. The initiative involves wearing garments where your own hands have been involved in its making. As Fashion Revolution originator, Orsola de Castro, says: the less we know about how our fashion is made, the less we connect with it. It’s much more difficult to throw away a garment you’ve put lots of effort into making yourself than something you’ve bought cheaply at the store. Consequently, making clothes yourself is often an eyeopener and makes us realise how the cheap prices of fast fashion should be impossible. Learning about seams and finishes, we learn to recognise the difference between high and low quality garments. There are thus many good reasons to at least try to mend, alter or even sew clothes yourself.
Me made May was started nine years ago by blogger Zoe Edwards in order to make the home-sewing community connect with the items they’ve made. I join the challenge this year since I finally came up with a doable challenge for myself. I will wear, each day of May, at least one garment which I’ve either sewn, altered or mended myself. After one year and four moths without shopping I’ve mended a lot of my wardrobe, so this should be doable. I also expect my few homemade garments to get some extra wear this month. You can follow my progress on Instagram. You can also sign up for this year’s #MMMay18 here.
Aquaculture, such as fish farming, is a key industry to ensure sustainable food production in the future. Foods deriving from the seas face many challenges such overfishing and water pollution. At the same time, sea food has many benefits such as low climate impact and high nutritional value.
It is quite clear today that wild fish supply is not sufficient and that aquaculture is necessary in some form in order to supply current populations with sea food. However, fish farming has been criticized for unsustainable practices through the years and the industry still struggles with some of them like sea lice, escapes and sustainable feed sources.
In the course I teach at NHH ‘Measuring sustainability’ we each year work with a real case on how to measure sustainability. Last autumn, we collaborated with Norwegian Responsible Investment association Norsif on how we can measure and evaluate the sustainability of aquaculture companies. One of the things I love about these cases is the creativity the students show when coming up with new ideas and solutions. I truly believe this kind of creativity, combined with academic thinking and facts, is one of the most important skills we can teach students.
One of the learning points from working with the aquaculture case is how important national regulation is for sustainable fish farming. One of the drastic differences is the use of antibiotics. Aquaculture uses significant amounts of antibiotics, which is a critical issue considering antibiotic resistance, but the industry also shows that it can do without it when it has to, such as in Norway.
Another key issue for sustainability, the students discovered, is future orientation of the companies and investment in research to find sustainable solutions to issues we have not yet solved. During the course, we we’re visited by the head of sustainability and risk at Cermaq, Wenche Gronbrekk, who explained how the company works to address sustainability issues. Wenche has answered a few of my questions below and also describes their investment in future solutions: iFarm.
Sabina: The Norwegian aquaculture industry has made quite some progress in terms of addressing its sustainability challenges. What are, in your opinion, some of the main achievements? Wenche: We have made great progress in lifting the industry standard the past years through collaboration – through dialogue and knowledge sharing between government, research and industry. Also, in the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI), addressing key issues such as standardization, feed ingredients and biosecurity. Vaccine development has also been key to advancing sustainability to the level we see today.
Sabina: Still, as we have learnt when working with this case, challenges remain. What’s on top of your to-do-list in terms of sustainability? Wenche: Sustainability requires continuous effort, and we work every day to be better than just complying with minimum standards. Developing new solutions that address key problems is also a priority – such as our iFarm concept. It may solve many of the key challenges today through individualized treatment of each fish, increasing animal health and welfare, optimizing feeding and any need for treatment, which may in turn reduce the environmental footprint of our activities.
Sabina: Sustainability is, according to its definition, about the long term perspective, future generations even. Still most organisations operate with a shorter time perspective in their day-to-day business. How are you able to take the long term perspective into account? Wenche: Salmon farming is largely dependent on taking a long term view – we operate in the sea and biological risks do not respect financial quarters. To have a business over time, our operations need to be sustainable in all aspects: environmentally, socially and economically.
Sabina: Many who work as sustainability officers or even head of sustainability find that change management is crucial in order to conduct their work. Is this your experience as well? Wenche: As a sustainability officer you need to work across the organization, break silos and in many ways be a change agent. Integrating sustainability in business strategy also means that many companies need to innovate their business model – and it is my experience that sustainability professionals often play a central part in this transformation.
A big thank you to Wenche and Cermaq for sharing your experiences with us and also to Norsif and Norsif member Folketrygdfondet and Tine Fossland who attended the students presentations and provided feedback on their evaluation models. We could not have done this without you!
Last year one in five of Swedish young women became vegetarian because of climate change. Some might think that this is excellent news. We hear a lot that we should all eat less meat, ideally become vegetarians. The complex problem of food and sustainability has been reduced to the simple statement that vegetables are all good and meat overall bad. Unsurprisingly, such black and white statements are oversimplifications. One of the simplifications is the issue of methane and whether or not it is part of the carbon cycle, as I’ve previously written about here.
Another simplification is how the climate impact of food is calculated. Many calculations are based on how much CO2 is released per kilogram of the food. This, however, has been criticized by research that shows that calculating CO2 per volume, calorie or even nutrient will give different results. The researchers conclude that “the sustainability of alternative diets, matched for energy and nutrient adequacy, can only be made on the basis of calories and nutrient contents and not per gram of weight”. Surprisingly, if you calculate climate impact per calorie, lettuce appears worse than bacon. Basically, how we calculate the climate impact of food makes a big difference. Like, Gunnar Rundgren I believe that there’s a point in calculating emission per nutrient density.
Taking nutrients into account when calculating climate impact is important because, as Rockström has pointed out, food is both a key factor in the health epidemic as well as the climate. Half of Swedish female adolescents have iron deficiency, one in three women in general. It is well known that iron from meat type of sources is absorbed more easily (25%) than from vegetable sources (5-10%). Research on diets and climate change acknowledges that reduced meat in diets is especially problematic for young women for this reason.
If we encourage women with iron deficiency to become vegetarians, we’d better be sure it is beneficial for the climate.
I am not so sure it is and I’ll use the following example with two high impact foods to illustrate why. Lamb is generally viewed as the meat with the highest climate impact. Rice, because of methane emissions, is among the highest climate impact grains. A Swedish lamb provides a carbon footprint of 16 kg CO2-equivalent per slaughtered kg lamb. A kilo of Thai rice provides between 1.34- 3.57 CO2-e per kg. Let’s say 2.4 kg CO2-e/kg.
Calculating emissions according to weight, yes lamb (16/kg) is much worse for the climate than rice (2.4/kg). You can eat six times as much rice and still release less CO2.
However, we have all heard about empty calories. What’s important is not only how much we eat but the nutrients the food provides us with. And we have to consider a woman’s recommended daily intake of iron, around 15 mg (9 mg for men). So here’s the issue. You would have to eat 3.2 kg rice a day to get the daily iron allowance. And considering the sort of iron and its lower absorption, it is even more. If you instead eat lamb, maybe even liver, 300g/day is enough. Of course, in reality no one would rely on a single food to provide all the necessary iron but the figure shows how efficient liver would be in doing so.
So to get your recommended daily intake of iron, what is the climate impact? For Thai rice the climate impact is at least 7,68 kg CO2-e. For Swedish lamb liver it’s 4,8 kg CO2-e.
Now, you might say, young Swedish women know about empty calories and would go for broccoli rather than rice. Still lamb liver is more efficient than broccoli in delivering iron per kg CO2-e. You would have to eat more than 2,3 kg broccoli to get the recommended daily intake. In climate impact that’s (using the example of UK broccoli) ca 5,3 kg CO2-e.
My message is really this. We have to consider nutrient content and absorption instead of climate impact per weight or calorie. When we consider nutrient content and absorption, we may find that going vegetarian is not a good idea. Instead, eating small amounts of nutrient dense food, like lamb liver, helps young women to maintain their health.
It is more climate friendly to eat small amounts of nutrient dense foods than eating large quantities of empty calories.
The nutrient argument was highlighted by researchers with connections to the Swedish dairy industry in 2010. While we of course have to be wary of industry motives, I still believe the overall idea of considering nutrients in relation to climate impact is a sound idea. And the general lesson here is that how we calculate affects the results we get.
On the picture: grazing sheep on the west coast of Norway, are they really that bad for the climate? It depends on how you calculate.