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Sustainable consumption in a sustainable economy17th May 2012 by Administrator
With a host of challenges facing society and planet, as highlighted by WWF’s recent Living Planet report, a varied group of people from NGOs, public sector and commercial organisations met on Tuesday night to discuss how to encourage sustainable consumption in a sustainable economy. It was an engaging, energetic and constructive debate with much optimism that, with strong leadership and effective collaboration, progress towards meeting and overcoming some of these challenges can be made.
WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) Chief Executive Liz Goodwin kicked off the discussion. Liz highlighted that there are some real benefits to developing increased resource efficiency: not only the reduction in resources used but an associated reduction in climate change impacts, greater water and energy efficiency and a potential contribution to economic growth.
But to achieve sustainable consumption, the solution is much more than just resource efficiency. By working through the waste hierarchy to identify opportunities and by using improved design packaging to prevent packaging waste, even greater progress can be made.
Liz highlighted that consumers are also engaging to reduce resources through re-use – charity shops, Freecycle groups, etc – and that this can make a tangible contribution; in fact, this is significantly better than recycling as there is no energy use in reprocessing.
The success of WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign was highlighted in the recent Green Alliance Report, which stated that more than 300 local authorities in England have set up their own Love Food Hate Waste initiatives to help consumers reduce food waste. WRAP has estimated that this has led to 670,000 tonnes of food saved, with a value of over £1.5 billion. The production of this food and the disposal of the waste would have produced more than 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions a year. WRAP also estimates that more than 2 million people have made positive changes to the way they buy, prepare, store and use food. The campaign has saved money for consumers, as every pound spent by WRAP on Love Food Hate Waste has prevented around £150 of food being wasted, and for local authorities, which have saved at least £22 million in avoided waste facility gate fees and landfill charges. This is a perfect example of sustainable consumption in a sustainable economy.
An engaging debate followed Liz’s introduction covering a broad range of questions. For example, do attitudes drive behaviours, or do behaviours need to change to bring about a change in attitudes?
Other key points that came from the ensuing discussion include:
- The media’s focus on celebrity lifestyles and often excessive consumerism encourages this sort of lifestyle among the broader population.
- Leadership is required to enable consumers to see the future and make the connections across a wide area of consumption more easily.
- Sifting the simplicity from the complexity is required – how do we make sustainable consumption meaningful for consumers? We need to have a clear vision and use language that consumers can connect with and that is relevant to them.
- With a longer-term view than governments are often allowed to have, business can make a tangible contribution in engendering positive change, but economic pressures can also make this challenging.
- We need a blend of policy, intervention, collaboration and behaviour change, and the latter is an essential ingredient in tapping into values and changing beliefs.
- This is an international issue – it is difficult to make meaningful progress in isolation from other countries (especially where resources are extracted, manufacturing takes place, etc) yet we have to make progress in the UK as the challenge of getting a collective solution is currently too great.
- We need a collective movement that engenders action.
- We need to allow personal choice within a context (for example, you choose to use your energy in a way that suits your lifestyle but that is also sustainable).
- We need to make sustainability personal – and increase the feeling of immediate benefit for individuals and long-term benefit for the planet.
- Identifying and overcoming barriers is often as important as finding relevant incentives or drivers.
- We need to start from where the consumer is – make it relevant, build confidence and develop momentum.
The evening ended with a sense of realism to the challenges faced but optimism that, through collaboration, a credible pathway to more sustainable consumption can be found.