Policy Relevance

The PRINCE framework has already supported policy makers across Sweden in their efforts to understand and reduce the environmental pressures from public and private consumption. We have explored how these types of indicators are used by policy makers and have found that they highlight the scale of the challenge in reducing our environmental pressures globally, help people to understand sustainable consumption as a concept, demonstrates the importance of public procurement, and support the engagement of stakeholders across supply chains to reduce their environmental pressures.  

Monitoring the impact of Swedish Consumption 

Consumption is one of the main routes by which economies impact natural ecosystems. The impacts might come through extracting raw materials; particular types of land use or deforestation; emissions of hazardous chemicals or greenhouse gases during production; the water and energy used in manufacturing; transport emissions; or many other ways.

Sweden keeps good data on the environmental performance of its farms, factories and transportation system. But much of what is consumed in the country is imported. Sweden’s environmental commitment means that we need to keep track of the environmental pressures linked to imported goods and services too.

The Generational Goal 

Two questions are central to assessing progress towards the Generational Goal: Is Sweden solving the major environmental problems at home? And is Sweden reducing its negative environmental impact abroad?

PRINCE results for 2008–2014 show that major climate and air pollution-related emissions (GHGs, PM2.5, SO2, NOx) and water consumption linked to Swedish consumption fell during the period – both inside and outside Sweden’s borders – ending up between 10% and 25% lower than in 2008. In Figure 1 you can explore trends in the external and domestic portions of the Swedish consumption footprint for five key indicators.

However, for nearly all PRINCE environmental indicators, the consumption footprint falls overwhelmingly outside Sweden’s borders (Figure 2), which is to be expected given Sweden’s heavily import-dependent economy. Figure 2 compares the domestic and external portions for a larger group of PRINCE indicators for 2014.

Figure 1. Comparison of domestic and external portions of the Swedish consumption footprint for four key PRINCE indicators, 2008–2014

Figure 2. Comparison of domestic and external portions for eight key PRINCE indicators, 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).

Value added rises as environmental impacts fall

Strikingly, these reductions in environmental pressures happened as “value added” across the Swedish economy grew. Value added is the difference between the value of outputs from industrial sectors and the value of inputs to them. Figure 3 compares trends in major indicators (combining internal and external) with trends in value added in the Swedish economy during the period. As can be seen, both value added and the consumption-based indicators fell markedly in the wake of the financial problems of 2008. However, after a short uptick, the environmental pressures associated with Swedish consumption, and then continued to fall while value added increased.

Figure 3. Value added of goods and services consumed in Sweden compared with trends in some major consumption-based indicators, 2008–2014. GHGs = greenhouse gases; SO2 = sulphur dioxide; NOx = nitrogen oxides; PM2.5 = fine particulate matter; Water = blue water consumption. Based on preliminary PRINCE data.

Understanding the environmental footprints of Swedish consumption via Hotspots

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.

The indicators generated by PRINCE 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”. 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”.

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.

What does the 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 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.