Sustainability experts comment on the environmental impacts of seasonal treats
The arrival of spring and Easter is often celebrated with egg-containing delicacies and all-things chocolate. The grocery shelves overflow with these temptations without much thought of how they arrived and the consequential environmental cost. Experts from UBCO’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and Faculty of Management offer insight into the sustainability of these products and how to purchase wisely.
Of the major sources of terrestrial animal protein, eggs are the most sustainable says Dr. Nathan Pelletier, assistant professor of biology and management
“Hens are very efficient at converting feed into animal protein,” he explains. “In comparison to other animal protein sources, almost the entire product is edible. This, along with a long shelf-life, means that egg waste is very low.”
Dr. Pelletier adds that sustainable egg producers efficiently use limited natural resources, such as energy and water while minimizing emissions. They also ensure hen welfare, fair prices for farmers and are mindful of the social acceptability of this form of farming.
As NSERC/Egg Farmers of Canada Industrial Research Chair in Sustainability, Dr. Pelletier is examining the potential benefits of net-zero energy housing systems for the hens and the use of scrubbers to recover nitrogen from poultry barn exhaust air. He’s also studying the implementation of renewable energy systems such as wind, solar and geothermal heat pumps on farms.
“Eggs are the most affordable source of animal protein, with an average Canadian consuming about 21 dozen annually,” he says. “Because they play an important role in food and nutrition security, it is important to continually evaluate and seek opportunities to improve sustainability outcomes.”
“I believe consumers can use their purchasing power to support social change,” says Dr. Eric Li, associate professor of management, referring to supporting fair-trade chocolate
He adds that the International Labor Organization estimates millions of child labourers work to produce everyday purchases such as coffee and cocoa and that almost 284,000 children between the ages of nine and 12 have been reported working in hazardous conditions on West African cacao farms.
“These children are exploited by being forced to work long hours with little or no pay, and have little rights and limited education,” he says. “Also, the ongoing deforestation due to the growing demand for chocolate will contribute to climate change-related issues.”
Dr. Li notes these practices are not ethical or climate-friendly. Rather, he suggests organizations that support sustainable standards pay workers a fair wage and maintain critical forest conservation areas. They should also reduce pressures to convert more forestland to cacao plantations, and provide social and economic benefits to local communities.
Dr. Li also advocates for buying fair-trade chocolate, which is produced without child or forced labour. For making informed choices, he recommends reading the annual Easter Chocolate Shopping Guide. Compiled by the Mighty Earth environmental advocacy group, the guide assigns ‘Good Egg’ and ‘Rotten Egg’ awards to companies on a range of social and environmental criteria that can impact purchasing decisions.
“If everyone takes small steps to gradually change our consumption behaviour and mindsets, we will be on the right track of building a better world.”