Understanding the global consumer and production trends is a prerequisite of success in the international markets. One of those trends is, undoubtedly, the increased attention to environmental protection.
Governments of developed countries increasingly focus on sustainable economy development motivating manufacturers to take measures for the protection of the environment. Throughout the world, specifically in the developed countries (Europe, US, Canada), consumers are getting more inclined to “ethical consumption”: selection of goods and services that bear lesser risks for the environment even if they turn out to be more expensive.
Relevance of these issues also stimulates those willing to speculate and groundlessly associate themselves with environmental protection and «pseudo-ecological» goods. This phenomenon (greenwashing) is present not only in Ukrainian markets but also abroad.
Such speculations may confuse not only consumers but also exporters who try to keep abreast of the environmental trend. Therefore, when entering Canada’s market, for instance, one should be aware of the terminology and understand the practices of environmental protection in order not to get under sanctions and obtain maximum advantages from the funds invested into a «green brand».
So, let us avoid stereotypes and try to take an unbiased look at the issues of ecology and environmental protection that are important for exporters.
1. Good/bad ecology.
What people typically think. Bad ecology is when it has much waste and contaminants that cause harm to human health.
What is reality. First of all, there is a principal difference between the concepts of «ecology» and «environmental protection».
Ecology is a science that explores interaction of living organisms, their adaptation to the life with one another and dependence upon the conditions of existence. Simply speaking, this is a science of who eats whom in the nature and how they adapt to the environment and influence the environment.
Human being is a living organism and a part of the nature as well. In the middle of the 20th Century, it became obvious that due to considerable consumption of natural resources, contamination of water and air humans became a specie that determines living conditions for all other organisms. The misbalances created by humans also impact their own lives.
Understanding of these dependences resulted in the establishment of «environmental protection» – a system of measures aimed to mitigate the consequences of human activities for the environmental conditions and relations between other living organisms in the environment. Those measures may be aimed to change the population’s behavioral habits, develop and implement engineering solutions, policies and restrictions, etc.
It is important to understand, therefore, that “ecology” is a science. Thus, the phrase “bad ecology” is equivalent to expressions like “bad physics / philosophy / jurisprudence». Instead, it would be correct to speak in this context of «inappropriate environmental condition».
2. «Ecologically clean» goods.
What people typically think. Ecologically clean goods do not contain toxins that negatively impact human health.
What is the reality. When consuming certain goods or services people mainly focus on their influence on their own organisms. Usually consumers are not familiar with the processes of manufacturing and consumption waste management. Therefore, they mistakenly transfer environmental impacts on the consumer qualities of the goods themselves, that is, their usefulness for the human organism. This is where the confusion starts between ecology and quality of goods, which is used by dishonest manufacturers to speculate.
In reality, however, “ecological” features of the goods are determined by environmental impacts in the course of their manufacturing (emissions of contaminants into the air and water, production wastes, etc.), operation (for instance, emissions of contaminants by automobiles, energy efficiency of electric equipment) and at the end of the life cycle (possibility of recycling, biodegradability).
For instance, detergents may be considered environmentally friendly unless they contain phosphate compounds. The logic is simple: as phosphates get into water reservoirs through sewerage systems they cause rapid regeneration of algae known as «water blooming». Such algae consume a significant share of the oxygen in the water causing its deficit for fish. As a result, fish die, which is obviously negative for the environment.
Another example is furniture made of solid wood, which is positioned as “ecological”. Indeed, it may be ecological if made from legally procured but not poached wood.
Therefore, an «ecological» commodity does not mean its purity/contamination or consumer qualities. This is an issue of environmental impacts in the course of manufacturing and consumption. Moreover, both in Ukraine and Canada, for instance, legislation prohibits using such markings as «ecologically clean products» or «100% natural product» without a third-party confirmation and application of a standardized ecological mark.
3. Ecological packing.
What people typically think. Ecological packing neither contains toxic substances nor influences the quality of goods.
What is the reality. Lack of understanding of the «ecological packing» is directly connected with the previous stereotype regarding «ecologically clean goods». Instead, emphasis should be made on the packing’s influence on the environment rather than the product quality.
Currently, packing wastes constitute up to 30% of total solid wastes in Ukraine. Under existing model of business: «extraction – production – use – removal», these 30% end up in landfills along with a lot of valuable resources that, in fact, were never utilized.
Since a larger share of wastes in Ukraine finally gets to the landfill or roadside/field/forest, it is important to make sure they do not remain there for thousands of years. One of the ways of possible optimization, therefore, is biodegradability of packing. This means, for example, that a paper cup thrown away at the roadside may become food for the soil microorganisms and disappear from the roadside in a couple of months. Even in this case, however, the problem of irrecoverable loss of resources is not resolved. Therefore, biodegradable packing may be considered as the “best of the worst” solution.
From the environment viewpoint, the best approach to the waste treatment is when packing is reused or becomes a material for manufacturing of other goods. In this case, less garbage comes to the landfills and fewer production processes are initiated for extraction and processing of raw materials. This approach of «circular economy» has already become a strategic development area in the developed countries. In this context, production of simple packing that may be easily involved in the waste recycling system that exists, for instance, in Canada may contribute to success in the Canadian market.
4. Organic products.
What people typically think. Organic products definitely do not contain any toxins and, therefore, are ecological.
What is the reality. The statement of «organic» may apply to the goods made from agricultural raw materials: nutrition products, feeds, clothes, cosmetics. A specific feature of the organic agricultural production and processing is that it excludes artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, preservatives, growth stimulants and hormones from the technological processes. Therefore, the probability of their content in the end product is minimal. Once again, however, the quality of foodstuffs is an issue of standardization and food safety rather than ecology.
Instead, the value of organic practices for the environment is due to restricted use of mineral fertilizers and pesticides that pollute surface and ground waters and kill the soil microorganisms. Organic agricultural practices are focused on stimulation of functioning of the soil as a natural ecosystem that contributed to accumulation of carbon compounds in it. In this process, carbon is withdrawn from the atmosphere, which contributed to combating of climate changes.
5. Reduction of energy/water consumption.
What people typically think. This helps saving money. Does this have any impact on the environment?
What is the reality. It is worth reviewing the data on electricity generation in Ukraine. In total, 90% is generated at nuclear (NPP) and thermal (TPP) power stations. Alternative power generation takes less than 1%. It should be remembered that NPPs use nuclear fuel for power generation and TPPs mainly burn gas and coal. Consequently, this brings nuclear risks and causes emission of contaminating substances and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Thus, reduced consumption / generation of electricity in Ukraine will result in the decrease of required volumes of nuclear fuel and its wastes; fewer geological and landscape shifts during extraction of coal and uranium ore; lower atmospheric pollution. Water consumption is closely connected with energy. Due to the needs of pumping, preliminary treatment and final purification, energy resources amount to 30% of the production cost of water. At the same time, water is a working element in today’s system of energy generation (for instance, steam that moves generator turbines at TPPs and NPPs and working fluid at HPPs). Therefore, reduced use of water will, in fact, decrease the need of energy resources while the latter will make a contribution into combating climate changes.
The better exporters orientate in the ecological aspects of production and consumption, the higher «market power» they have. Consumers will be willing to support reduction of negative impacts on the environment with their money. That is why it is important to understand the key concepts of ecology and environmental protection. This will prevent from «backsliding» to greenwashing and allow commencing the development of a long-term «green» strategy of production and promotion of goods in the international markets.
Author: Zoia Pavlenko, Ukrainian Environment Expert, Canada-Ukraine Trade and Investment Support project