Hotspots in the environmental footprints of Swedish consumption

Some of the most interesting information the PRINCE indicators can offer for policy-making is the “hotspots” of Sweden’s consumption footprint: where in the world the biggest environmental pressures are taking place, and which product groups they are associated with. This can help to prioritize action, as well as to identify which partners Sweden could work with to reduce its footprint.

How PRINCE identifies hotspots

The indicators generated by the PRINCE hybrid model take the estimated environmental pressures associated with the production of goods and services consumed in Sweden, and reallocate them to groups of products consumed in Sweden. This makes it possible to identify, at a broad scale, the categories of products with the largest “footprints” for the different environmental indicators (“product group hotspots”).

Explore visualizations of product group hotspots identified by PRINCE

Download the PRINCE model data for 2008–2014, on greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants, material flows, and land and water use.

The indicators also sum the environmental pressures exerted in 44 countries and 5 world regions due to the production of the goods and services consumed in Sweden. In this way, it is possible to see which countries experience the highest environmental pressures due to Swedish consumption (“geographic hotspots”).

Explore visualizations of geographic hotspots identified by PRINCE

Finally, all these types of data are broken down and reallocated to different types of consumption: government, household (private) and capital investments.

The PRINCE indicators reflect environmental pressures due to economic activities along the whole supply chain of each product group, not just in the countries from which Sweden imported finished products.

For example, phosphates mined in Morocco might be imported to Latvia for production of fertilizer, which is applied to vegetable crops in Germany that are then consumed in Sweden. The PRINCE indicators would capture the related environmental pressures, and allocate them to each country or region.

In terms of product groups, in this example the environmental pressures related to the phosphate mining and fertilizer manufacturing would be allocated to the product group Agricultural products – as this is what was actually consumed in Sweden.[1]

Sample hotspot results

Domestic vs international pressures

The highest level of geographic hotspot information available from the PRINCE indicators is a comparison of the shares of the footprint falling inside and outside Sweden. Figure 1 shows data for 2014 (the latest year available in PRINCE) for a range of indicators.


Figure 1. Comparison of domestic and external portions of the Swedish consumption footprint for five key PRINCE indicators, 2008–2014
GHGs = greenhouse gases; SO2 = sulphur dioxide; NOx = nitrogen oxides; PM2.5 = fine particulate matter; PM10 = course particulate matter; Water = blue water consumption.
Based on preliminary PRINCE data and Fauré et al. (in review).

Greenhouse gas emissions

PRINCE data indicates that by far the largest share of the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of Swedish consumption falls outside Sweden. Sweden is, however, the country where the highest emissions occur. These are primarily linked to Construction, Food products, Electricity and heat services, as well as direct emissions from households due to use of vehicle fuel and other fossil fuels. Another large share is emitted in Russia – notably due to production of fossil fuels.

Figure 2: PRINCE indicators for 2014: Geographic hotspots of greenhouse gas emissions associated with Swedish consumption
Note: Shading reflects the total value for the country or region.
See hotspot maps for more PRINCE indicators.


Nitrogen oxides

Figure 3 shows the distribution of Sweden’s consumption-based nitrogen oxides (NOx) footprint across product groups consumed in Sweden. It also indicates the type of consumption (by households, by government or in the form of investments).

The largest product group hotspot is Food products (almost all consumed by private households), followed by Construction (investments) and three product groups likely to contain a large proportion of vehicle transport: Wholesale and retail, Household direct emissions and Warehousing and postal services (chiefly by government).

Figure 3. PRINCE indicators for 2014: Top 20 hotspot product groups for nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions associated with Swedish consumption, showing type of consumption
Based on preliminary PRINCE data.
See more product group hotspot-consumption type visualizations


Blue water consumption

Blue water consumption is one of the natural resource use indicators developed by PRINCE (along with land use and materials use). This macroindicator estimates the extraction of freshwater for productive uses – in particular agriculture, but also industrial processes.

The PRINCE data indicate that Food products and Agricultural products have the largest water consumption footprints, followed by Household direct emissions and Textiles. The largest shares of the footprint are in Sweden, followed by China and Rest of Asia and Pacific, and then Spain and Rest of Middle East.

Figure 4: PRINCE indicators for 2014: Geographic hotspots of blue water consumption associated with Swedish consumption
Based on preliminary PRINCE data.

Because of the very different implications of blue water extraction in water-scarce and water-rich areas, the PRINCE team carried out a case study of how the data could be weighted using an index of water scarcity.

Figure 5. PRINCE indicators for 2014: For each of five environmental pressures, the product group–country combination hotspots in the footprints of Swedish consumption
Based on preliminary PRINCE data.

Each coloured dot represents a country-product group combination that has one of the five largest contributions to the total consumption-based footprint for that environmental pressure. Other PRINCE countries/regions and product groups are not shown. Results are for 2014, using preliminary PRINCE data.

The figure shows the five country-product group combinations with the largest footprint for each of the five environmental pressures, based on preliminary PRINCE data for 2014. As can be seen, the majority of these hotspot combinations are located in Sweden. All the top five hotspots for sulphur dioxide are found in China, in product groups associated with manufacturing and construction.

What does hotspot analysis tell us?

Hotspot analyses deepen our understanding of Sweden’s large and many-faceted consumption footprints. They can also highlight potential entry points and priorities for policy-making.

With the PRINCE data, it is possible also to identify where the biggest contributions to the footprint are occurring (in terms of hotspot country–product group combinations, as in Figure 5 and these visualizations), and whether it is mainly related to household consumption, government consumption or investments.

This information could then be used as a starting point for further research or dialogue (for example with a national government, the European Union, or an industry association or federation) to identify why the hotspot is appearing in the data, and what could be done to reduce the pressures or mitigate the impacts.

A wide range of policy options to reduce environmental pressures exist; for example, campaigns targeting consumption patterns in Sweden, new or better-enforced environmental standards on products, duties and subsidies, clauses in trade agreements, development assistance, technology transfer, or regulation of production in Sweden. Such measures could be at the national level, bilateral or through organizations like the EU, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or the United Nations.

Regular updating of the indicators could reveal emerging hotspots, as well as cases where action targeting a hotspot has led to positive results.

Finally, the PRINCE hotspot results also tell us another important lesson: the value of tracking multiple environmental macroindicators. There is a tendency in environmental policy to focus almost exclusively on fossil fuel burning and greenhouse gas emissions, with a tacit assumption that reducing those will reduce other environmental pressures. The PRINCE indicators show that many environmental pressures follow quite different patterns, originating in different parts of the world and associated with different product groups – suggesting that more specific, targeted responses will be needed in order to reduce the different footprints of Swedish consumption.


[1] Note that some of the case studies carried out as part of the PRINCE study – for example on fisheries, land use-related emissions, and various pressures related to food production – use different methodologies. Explore for more information.