Each week we share the top sustainability news stories from around the world. Here’s this week’s round up:
This week, we explore how one multinational is working towards becoming more sustainable by looking inwards, a sweeping law that will hold firms accountable for environmental and human rights abuses, and a simple yet efficient way to tackle pollution in a densely packed city.
Unilever investing in upcycling to curtail food waste:
Food waste, as mentioned in last week’s news update, is a persistent issue in the fight for a more sustainable future. The food industry is responsible for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Hannake Faber, Unilever’s president of foods and refreshment, sees this as an opportunity. Since the multinational first introduced sustainability goals in 2010, they have worked to cut food waste in their supply chain from factory to shelf in half by 2025. The company also plans to increase plant-based sales in the next 5 to 7 years which Faber said is tied to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from traditional based agriculture.
Unilever has begun to use upcycling to produce its popular British Marmite spread. Since its beginnings 120 years ago, Marmite has been made from discarded yeast from breweries, making it an original upcycle. Today the factories that make the spread have doubled down on reuse. They take the manufacturing waste to an anaerobic digester, which produces biogas to power a boiler that helps run the plant on steam energy. Half of the energy needed to run the plant comes from Marmite that would have otherwise gone to waste.
“Whether it’s Nestlé or Kellogg or Mondelez or Danone, everyone realises that the food system needs some serious work to be future fit,” Faber said. From reducing waste to encouraging plant based eating, Unilever and other food and drink manufacturers’ sustainability work is influencing an important group of consumers: policymakers, which will bode well for the future of the climate crisis.
MEPs back law to hold firms to account for environment and human rights abuses:
The European Parliament is proposing legislation that would make companies accountable for environmental damage and human rights abuses committed by their subsidiaries and suppliers overseas. The legislation would require companies to conduct due diligence throughout their supply chain, rooting out abuses and environmental harm such as deforestation and pollution. These rules will apply to all businesses operating within the EU, including those based outside of EU member states, such as UK companies.
The vote was a victory for those who have long raised concerns that companies selling to European Union countries have been directly or indirectly associated overseas with environmental damage that would otherwise be illegal in the EU. Large supermarkets were an example cited as a report indicated many are selling products associated with deforestation. A recent investigation last year found that major brands like Tesco, Lidl and Nando’s were selling chicken fed on soya from soy plantations in Brazil that were built from previously deforested lands.
Jill McArdle, Corporate Accountability Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “The era of European companies being allowed to wreck the planet and destroy livelihoods with impunity is coming to a close. This proposal would mean companies like Shell can no longer shirk responsibility in the EU for the harms they cause abroad. [It] is a step towards corporate justice.”
She further added that the European Commission should ensure, in its drafting, that human rights and environmental violations, such as illegal logging and forced evictions, are treated as crimes so that companies can be tried under the law.
Pocket parks are helping Athens tackle pollution
Greece’s capital Athens is taking a new approach to tackling the climate crisis by transforming small plots formerly filled with garbage and weeds into green “pocket park” spaces. In between rows of apartment blocks you will find a strip of green with a few trees, some plants and a bench, in a dense concrete filled city with summer temperatures well into the high 30s and low 40s.
The idea of pocket parks “is about creating green spaces, lowering the temperatures, giving quality of life and creating new reference points inside the city” says Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis. Athens is a densely populated metro area with rows of blocks for most of its housing instead of detached homes. The metro population is close to 4 million people, and smog has become a major issue recently. Since the city is cradled by mountains and has no persistent northern trade winds, heatwaves combined with smog are stifling, a problem only getting worse with the climate crisis.
The capital has tried several measures to curb traffic pollution which makes up over 70% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The 2004 Olympics brought new motorways to bypass central streets, a metro and moving the airport outside of the city. They have also closed traffic lanes and transformed them into bike routes, pedestrian walkways and other green areas, on top of the pocket parks. A local resident from the densely populated neighbourhood of Kypseli said the pocket parks are “letting us breathe a bit, because the way we are here…we are suffocating”.
Tune in next week for another round of sustainability news from around the world.