pressrelease | 2021-09-28
Couple walking with city bikes in Copenhagen street shopping. Urban living lifestyle. Commuting with bicycle, young students couple tourists traveling in Europe.

New report reveals bad environmental habits

Switching to white meats and plant-based diets and finding alternatives to air travel are among the recommendations in the Nordic Council of Ministers’ new report on household consumption. The report, which was drawn up by IVL, maps Nordic private household consumption, focusing on four themes; housing, transport, food and consumer goods. It also presents eight recommendations for more sustainable and climate-friendly lifestyles.

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.

– 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, says Paula Lehtomäki, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Consumers often find it difficult to understand the impact of their habits, let alone make sustainable choices. 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.

Annelise de Jong, senior researcher and project manager for the study at IVL, identifies the negative “spillover” effects in other countries – both environmental and social – of Nordic consumption:

– The 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.

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 per cent 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 per cent of cars in 2019, followed by Iceland at approximately 4 per cent and the other countries all under 1 per cent. One reason identified in the report for the comparatively high number in Norway is the relative popularity of its financial incentive scheme.

A lot of red meat in the Nordic kitchens

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 per cent of Nordic food is imported, and about 50 per cent of food emissions stem from production in other countries.

– 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, says Paula Lehtomäki.

Download the report: Towards sustainable consumption in the Nordic Region External link, opens in new window.

For more information, please contact:
Annelise de Jong, Annelise.dejong@ivl.se, +46 (0)10-788 69 36

Eight initiatives to make consumption 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.