The Social Shift to Green: European Examples

Last March, JEF Malta organised a workshop and a debate focused on the social shift to green. During these two events participants discussed methods of going green, whether by focusing on renewable energy, reducing automobile dependency, constructing green buildings or by designating more natural land to remain free from development. Admittedly the focus of these issues was mostly local so let’s look at examples of sustainable green living from our European neighbours.

Whilst efforts to increase reliance on renewable energies and to increase green spaces deserve their spotlight, other sustainable means of living often go under the radar. One such method of sustainable living involves reducing food waste. As of early 2016, France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities and food banks. This new law followed a campaign by French shoppers, anti-poverty campaigners and those opposed to food waste. This new law will allow growing families, students, the unemployed, homeless people and poor people to easily satisfy their most basic needs whilst effectively feeding more people with less. Even a 15% increase in food coming from supermarkets would now mean 10 million more meals being handed out each year.

This new law also bans supermarkets from deliberately dousing their food in bleach to prevent potential food poisoning by eating food from bins. Additionally, this reduces the burden on scavengers’ lives who would expose themselves to criminal liability by being charged with theft by police.

France had better not rest on its laurels however, because Denmark too is quickly catching up with France. Danish supermarkets, in increasing numbers, have “stop the food waste” areas, with food close to its expiration date sold at cheap prices. Reducing food waste does not stop at supermarkets however. Motivated by restaurants’ practices of throwing out good food, Danish start-up Too Good to Go has found an intelligent solution: an app that allows you to snap us a restaurant’s leftovers at bargain prices just before they close. Instead of throwing excess food into the bin, participating restaurants box up the food, which is then collected from the restaurant by the customer, at give-away prices of €2.50 per box.

Denmark’s efforts to reduce food waste were the results of Selina Juul, who single-handedly helped the country to reduce its food waste by an impressive 25% since 2010, with the help of her organisation Stop Wasting Food. Ms Juul started her efforts to reduce food waste after having moved to Denmark from post-communist Russia, where food shortages were the order of the day. Thrown into a world of abundance, she was shocked at the amount of food being thrown away and since then made strenuous efforts to bring awareness to this issue.

The following snippets of information show how various European countries and cities are striving towards a green future:

  • Germany: Besides being an industrial powerhouse, Germany also boasts a successful renewable energy sector. Germany has ramped up its renewable energy production, from 6.3% in 2000 up to 34% in 2016, sometimes higher when favourable conditions come together. This occurred in April 2014 when combined power generation from wind and solar reached an astonishing 74%. Yet this didn’t come close to the 99% power generated on Sunday 15th May 2016 at 2.00pm as wind and solar power peaked, helped through biomass and hydroelectric sources. Power tariffs that day actually dropped to negative values during several 15-minutes episodes. Now that certainly is a bright future for a cloudy country.
  • Scotland: WWF Scotland released figures showing that 2015 was a huge year for renewable energy, with wind power producing the equivalent of 97% of Scotland’s household electricity needs.
  • Copenhagen: With over 450km of bicycle lanes, this dynamic metropolis won European Green Capital of the year 2014. Their aim is to reach carbon neutrality by 2025, and promote cycling as a means to achieve this. Currently, 45% of people go to school or work by bicycle.
  • Vienna is well known for their initiatives in water usage and had robust water treatment policies and efficiency. Vienna collects a lot of its water from mountain springs and channels it down to the city using gravity and is also used to hone electricity generation.
  • Stockholm has reduced greenhouses gases by 25% since 1990. Most of its buses use renewable energy, hopefully saying goodbye to fossil fuels by 2020.

These initiatives taken up by our European neighbours demonstrate their slow but gradual commitment to build a better and healthier environment for us to live in, and quite frankly puts Malta’s efforts to shame, where runaway construction, polluting old vehicles and lack of green open spaces are the order of the day, along with little effort to reach out renewable energy targets of just 10% by 2020. That is a future so dark, that we might need night vision goggles to see.

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