Innvoation Forum: Consumers still making sustainable shopping choices


News digest: sustainability still sells; why it may be too late for climate thresholds; UK CAP replacement detail; ClientEarth sues Shell directors; and, plastic recycling rates remain low.

A report from e-commerce platform Shopify suggests that, despite the economic challenges, consumers are still making purchasing choices based on sustainability issues. Consumers are increasingly aware of the impact of their choices and are willing to spend more on lower impact products.

Younger consumers are leading the way with 61 % of millennials claiming to make sustainable choices when shopping. Shopify also polled companies, finding that a majority believe there is a positive impact on performance by implementing the measures that lessen impacts and concluding that this is an indication that a focus on sustainability is here to stay.

Is critical warming now inevitable? 

Using AI modelling, researchers at Stanford University and Colorado State University have found that the planet is on the verge of critical climate thresholds, with 1.5C of warming over pre-industrial levels set to be reached within the next decade. By the middle of the century there is a 50 % chance of reaching 2C, which has been identified by scientists as a critical tipping point. The Stanford and Colorado State research highlights the evident impact of the 1C of warming that’s already happened, with increasing summer droughts and more intense weather systems around the world.

The model found that there is a near 70 % chance that the 2C threshold of warming will be crossed between 2044 and 2065, even if there is a significant decline in emissions. This does seem of note as, so far, mid-century net zero targets have been thought to give a chance of holding warming at 1.5C. The 1.5C and 2C warming pathways are of course the points identified by the Paris climate agreement signed by 200 countries at the UN COP meeting in 2015.

Yes to carbon credits! 

Research from Conservation International and the We Mean Business Coalition suggests that companies are keen to use every tool available to drive towards their climate targets. Of the over 500 sustainability managers surveyed at global companies and organisations in the US, UK and Europe, the vast majority – 92 % – view long-term decarbonisation as a priority and 89 % say that responsible use of carbon credits is important. Just over half say that carbon credits allow for immediate climate action alongside the work necessary to directly reduce emissions in the long term.

UK’s nature-positive farm scheme  

The UK government has announced more detail of the payments for farmers scheme that replaces the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Rather than simply being paid for land farmed, funding from the new UK scheme will pay out for 280 nature positive measures to help more environmentally less-damaging food production.

The environmental land management schemes consist of three different types of payment. Sustainable Farming Incentives will provide funds to help farmers focus on soil health, and reducing fertilisers and insecticides. The Landscape Recovery Scheme will support largescale re-wilding projects. And the Countryside Stewardship Plus scheme will reward farmers for action that promotes climate change adaptation and helping nature. In total the schemes are expected to provide around GBP 2.4 billion of funding.

Shell’s board sued 

It’s been hard to avoid the controversy, particularly in the UK, over the enormous profits being made by the energy sector giants while bills for domestic and business customers have reached unprecedented levels. There is unlikely, therefore, to be much sympathy for the directors of oil major Shell, who have been personally cited in a court action by legal activists ClientEarth over the company’s climate strategy. ClientEarth is suing the 11 directors on the basis that Shell’s climate strategy is inadequate to meet necessary low-carbon targets and that the company is at financial risk as the global economy transfers to renewable sources of energy.

The activists are supported by a number of large pension funds and institutional investors. They argue that any further investment in oil and gas projects is a waste of shareholder funds as it will lead, inevitably, to stranded assets as Shell’s customers require carbon-free sources of energy in the future. The International Energy Agency said in 2021 that developing new oil or gas projects was incompatible with net zero emissions by 2050. Shell’s most recent annual profits ran to G40bn, a record for the company.

Just 9 % plastic recycled 

A report into plastic recycling rates from the Minderoo Foundation accuses the fossil fuel sector of continuing to ramp up virgin plastic polymer production, despite the public attention on the harm caused by plastic pollution, particularly in the oceans. The Plastic Waste Makers Index says that between 2019 and 2021 there was 15 times more single-use plastic produced than recycled plastic. There was 6m tonnes of single use plastic produced in that period, with a further 15m tonnes likely by 2027. The oil sector has been widely accused of focusing attention on plastics and the petrochemicals sector to protect revenues as the global economy switches to low-carbon energy.

The research estimates that 9% of global plastic is currently recycled, and 10m tonnes every year enters the world’s oceans. Recycling rates are improving in developed economies where there is greater public demand.  But the problem is particularly acute in the developing world where there is little waste collection and recycling infrastructure.  Minderoo points out that the root cause of the problem is that it remains cheaper to produce virgin plastic than to collect, sort, clean and recycle used plastics.

Biodiversity risks assessed 

WWF has launched a new biodiversity risk filter that allows, at a company level, for assessment of risks and prioritising of actions to enhance resilience. The new tool will complement WWF’s existing water risk filter and allow investors to assess risk on a portfolio basis. The biodiversity risk filter tool covers broad aspects of biodiversity such as impacts in freshwater, marine, forest and other environments.

The filters are designed to help companies answer questions around regional risks and from specific business activities or investments.  They are designed to align with the requirements of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures and the Science-based Targets for Nature initiatives. The tools are accessed via a free-to-use online platform.