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

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Shortages in France – which items are affected

The global economic recovery following Covid-related disruption has lead to disruptions in the supply chain around the world, and France is no exception. These are the items that are in short supply in France.

Employees work at an IKEA warehouse in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier. IKEA France has reported problems getting products to its shelves.
Employees work at an IKEA warehouse in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier. IKEA France has reported problems getting products to its shelves. Photo: JEFF PACHOUD / AFP.

There have been no reports of food shortages – or anything else affecting supermarket shelves – or petrol in France, unlike in the UK.

But if you’re in the market for a new car, or planning renovation work on your home, you are likely to feel the effects.

These are the industries currently suffering from shortages, and what they mean for you.

Car industry

Most people had never heard the word “semiconductor” until recently, but now it’s inescapable. You never know what you have until it’s gone.

These microchips are essential for everything in modern vehicles from anti-lock braking systems to airbags to parking assistance technology. But a global semiconductor shortage has put the industry on hold, especially as car manufacturers must compete with other industries including smartphones and games consoles for the chips.

Last month, European new car sales fell to their lowest level for a month of September since 1995 as a global shortage of semiconductors hit supply. Sales in France were down by a fifth compared to September 2020.

The result has been factories on hold and subcontractors having to put workers on furlough, meaning buyers are having to wait longer for their cars to be ready, often up to six months.

French manufacturer Renault, meanwhile, has begun selling its Clio, Captur and Arkan models without the option of wing mirrors which fold in electronically, L’Argus reported earlier this month. Buyers have been told to bring their vehicles to a workshop to have the electric mirrors installed once the components are ready.

Disruption to the supply of new cars has had a knock-on effect on the used car market, too, as more people look to buy second-hand, and fewer people trade in their old cars, meaning you could have to pay more for a used vehicle.


In the construction industry, disruption to supply has combined with a rising demand for home renovations to lead to a steep rise in prices and concerns over potential delays to building work. If you are planning to undertake building work on your home, you may have to pay more for the job and wait longer than usual.

A study by the Confederation of Crafts and Small Building Companies (Capeb) last month found that 57 percent of small building companies had noticed disruptions to supplies, and 76 percent reported a rise in prices.

Capeb president Jean-Christophe Repon told Libération that “nobody is guaranteeing a quote price for more than six months anymore”.

Among the materials affected are steel, copper, PVC, and timber. The timber industry has had to raise prices by 8 to 15 percent in the past year, Repon told Ouest France, “and even up to 20 percent for timber-framed houses”.

READ ALSO French building boom leads to shortage of builders for property renovation projects


It’s not just large building sites or significant home improvement projects which have been affected – it has also become more difficult to find the little things to spruce up your home.

In line with trends in its stores across the globe, Ikea France confirmed to Les Echos on September 27th that 20 percent of its products were missing from its aisles. Of that, 15 percent concerned smaller articles, while 5 percent referred to furniture. The supply-chain problems are reportedly due to transportation difficulties, from a lack of shipping containers to an insufficient number of lorry drivers.

Since the spring, there have also been regular reports of paint shortages.


Unsurprisingly, a shortage of wood also means a shortage of paper. Due to the slowing down of the production of paper pulp, the raw material used to make paper; disruptions to international trade; and the fact more producers are using pulp to make cardboard instead, French publishers are facing increased prices and longer delivery times.

“My father created the Corlet printing company in 1961, and he never saw shortages like the ones we’re experiencing today!” Jean-Luc Corlet, CEO of the family company, told Le Monde.

“The prices have doubled. Shipping times have gone from two to eight weeks,” Wilfried Souchet, commercial director at Riccobono Imprimeur, told Libération.

While there are no price rises on the immediate horizon, this could affect publishers’ ability to reprint books that are selling unexpectedly well, RTL reports.

And while the cost of producing toilet paper has also risen, there are currently no suggestions of a shortage, so there is no reason to go out panic buying.