France is hosting and overseeing the 21st UN Climate Conference (COP 21) from November 30th to December 11th 2015. The political, social and economic event’s negotiations centre around keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Traders and retailers are among the figures with a role to play in meeting objectives in the fight against climate change. It’s a major challenge: investing in renewable energy, selling eco-friendly products, trading and establishing a Sustainable Development and CSR policy without jeopardising growth. Partners of the COP 21 include Carrefour, Galeries Lafayette and Ikea. Things are happening in the US as in July, retail giant Walmart and other iconic companies (Coca-Cola, Apple etc.) announced they would all invest 140 billion dollars by 2030 in low carbon emission projects.

The COP 21 is a fantastic opportunity to focus on a key subject in our time and address concerns from everyone involved: is supply, represented by retail companies, in line with the concerns and expectations of demand? How aware are consumers of these themes and especially the effect of their purchasing and consumer habits? Are the debates happening in certain privileged intellectual and economic circles relevant to the reality in French people’s trolleys and kitchens?

Let’s look at a survey commissioned by the GoodPlanet Foundation of 60 million consumers and the website, conducted by Mediaprism in summer 2015. It found that the French downplay the impact of food on the climate: food comes bottom in factors affecting climate, far behind transport, housing (heating, fixtures) and the use of everyday products (cleaning products, makeup etc.). In reality, food is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in French households and requires further analysis.

They also believe that using eco-friendly manufacturing methods and reducing food waste are two efficient ways to combat climate change.

Price remains their top criteria when it comes to purchases, followed by season, origin and look. 92% of French believe that buying fruit and vegetables that are in season and in less packaging are highly efficient ways to combat global warming. They are methods that should be built on. However, using the example of a fresh tomato, 40% of French people eat them regularly in winter. The percentage reaches 75% among occasional tomato eaters. Habits are hard to change even though people are aware of the right thing to do. Retailers also have a role to play in educating consumers.

Another item highlighted by the survey is that loose products are cheaper for consumers: they save between 10% and 45%. Projects such as Biocoop, which has just opened its first shop selling loose products alone, are on the rise. Another advantage of buying loose food is that waste is reduced although the look and size of fruit and vegetables can affect it. Intermarché and its “ugly fruit and vegetables” project was a great success in making consumers and retailers aware of the subject and changing habits whilst benefitting the consumer (price). Since the financial aspect is paramount, the message is fairly easy to convey since wasting food means wasting money. The cost of food waste is estimated to be 400 € per year for a family of 4.

The majority of French people understand the importance of moving towards sustainable food, for them and for the planet. A third of them believe that more eco-friendly habits cost more and are only for people with money to spend. A third believes that it is expensive but essential. The last third doesn’t believe it costs more if you change your habits. People can eat good quality produce on a budget as long as they do the right thing such as buying from local producers, wasting less and respecting seasonality.

We are at a crossroads and we have to play our part in overcoming the environmental challenges that affect all of us. Consumers have the power to make things change. 44% of those surveyed believe that their actions will fuel change. To be continued.