Europe has achieved unprecedented levels of prosperity and well-being during recent decades, and its social, health and environmental standards rank among the highest in the world. Still, the EU’s production and consumption systems are hindering its ability to meet sustainability goals.  

Production systems and pollution

The manufacture of goods is a key part of Europe’s production activity and occurs in large and small factories across the continent. Production also includes agriculture, which is significant in terms of both its scale and the associated pollution risks.

The processes involved in providing the goods that we use range from simple assembly operations to complex industrial activities involving toxic and persistent chemicals. All of these activities result in some kind of emissions. Therefore, production can be a significant source of pressure on the environment — with the potential to cause serious pollution if not carefully managed.

What about Europe's consumption?

The EU's Eighth Environment Action Programme calls for the EU to significantly reduce by 2030 its consumption footprint — the environmental and climate impacts that result from EU citizens’ consumption.

This footprint decreased only slightly, by around 4%, between 2010 and 2020. And it is uncertain if the EU will achieve a significant reduction in its consumption footprint, especially since it has increased since 2016. Major efforts are needed to both reduce the overall level of consumption and increase the use of products that have less impact on the climate and environment.

The pros and cons of digitalisation

While digitalisation can improve literacy, information access and interconnectedness, its overall environmental implications are uncertain.

On the positive side, digitalisation can help us track products better and make production processes more efficient. Still, the exponential increase in personal connected devices and sensors requires more energy consumption and waste. The increasingly short lifespan of our phones, computers and other devices contribute to a rapid increase in electronics waste, which is especially difficult to recycle or dispose of responsibly.

By using electronics for longer, we can significantly reduce impacts and contribute to meeting EU environment, climate and circularity objectives.  

What is on the menu?

Our food preferences can play a substantial role in environental and climate efforts. Eating less meat can especially help to decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from livestock, which account for nearly 15% of all human-caused emissions. Dairy consumption is also heavily linked to methane emissions.

Artificial meat is cultivated in vitro from the stem cells of living animals. This new protein source could offer an alternative solution to the rising global demand for meat consumption.  

Even if the production costs of artificial and plant-based meat and plant-based milk decrease in the coming years, their popularity will largely depend on society’s acceptance of them and reliable food safety protocols.  

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