Can a Glass of Orange Juice in Sweden be “Climate Smart”?

Sometimes you just wince.

I’m complicit, of course. I bought the juice. I like the juice.

And of course, I routinely wonder at the general sustainability of shipping orange juice (and a lot of other stuff) around the planet, using fossil fuels. It doesn’t seem quite right. There are a lot of things that “don’t seem quite right” that I just don’t do, since I  worry about climate change. But I do buy orange juice. It somehow falls into the category of small things, essential things, that are somehow (there’s that word again) okay — like wine from Australia, or the occasional tomato in winter.

And yet I couldn’t help but wince when, during our morning routine, I read the back of the package of “Eco-Juice” concentrate:

“Jo® Juice is as climate-smart you can get. No water is transported unnecessarily and the little package [a Tetrapak 0.2 liter box] gets reused as cardboard. A Jo plus fresh water gives you a liter of tasty ecological [organic] orange juice.”

Somehow, this just doesn’t seem right.

First of all, it would depress me to believe that a box of orange juice concentrate is the most climate-smart solution for a breakfast drink here in Sweden. We do have lots of berries here in Sweden, most of them growing wild, which is exceedingly “ecological”.  We also have many other local sources of Vitamin C, such as rosehips.  (A thick brew of “rosehip soup” used to be more popular here. My wife likes to drink it sometimes; my children won’t touch the stuff. They like orange juice.)

Second, “no water is transported unnecessarily” dodges the point that it is mostly water that is being transported. And that little word “unnecessarily” suggests that transporting some water, in the form of orange juice, is in fact necessary. Desperately necessarily. More necessary than not dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Somehow.

Third, the reuse of the package is hardly smart; it’s just standard. It would be stupid *not* to reuse the package, but it should not qualify as smart to downcycle a box of orange juice into cardboard. Smart would be a package that cycles around endlessly in continuous use, takes itself back to the factory between refillings, and, oh, I don’t know, absorbs CO2 out of the atmosphere while keeping your windows clean. Somehow.

Then there is the ecological/organic bit. Well, I’m a big fan of the ancient, pre-pesticide, naturally-fertilized farming techniques we call “ecological.” But these oranges were grown in Brazil. I’m glad for the Brazilian orchard workers and surrounding ecosystems that their exposure to bad stuff was minimized. But once again, these oranges had to travel a long way to get to the middle of the Scandinavian peninsula. Quite a few things were done to the climate along the way, involving ships and trucks and packaging plants, and few of these things should qualify as “smart.”

I am getting increasingly worried about the way we eco-label products. Maybe consumer items like this could be labeled, “Relatively less climate-stupid.” There are a lot of products that do deserve to be called “relatively less stupid,” or even “much less stupid,” where the designers and growers and companies involved have taken serious steps to reduce environmental impact and greenhouse gas emissions.

But there are not so many products like this that are really smart. Not yet.

Maybe I’ll check out those rosehips again.

3 thoughts on “Can a Glass of Orange Juice in Sweden be “Climate Smart”?

  1. Interesting post! But the discussion about what is really “eco-friendly product” and the difference between ecolabelling and green-washing is not so easy as sometimes we guess…

  2. Pingback: Green labeling is just a waypoint « MetaSD

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