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Sustainable products and consumption – Are we ready?

By Ashim Sanyal, COO Consumer VOICE

How optimistic are we about sustainable products? We as consumers do talk about sustainable products and some survey results even show that consumers are willing to pay more, but when it comes to sustainability, actions speak louder than words.

Sustainability as we all know is based on three pillars – economy, society and environment. In addition, consumers and households play a crucial role in the adoption of sustainable products and technologies, and are responsible for substantial proportions of energy use and waste. Moreover, ethical aspects of consumption are becoming more important. In order to gain an understanding of sustainable consumer and household behaviour, a degree of basic understanding is required about a consumer’s mindset. This is because consumers are a mirror of the society they live in.

Sustainable consumption is the use of material products, energy and immaterial services in a way that their use minimizes impacts on the environment, so that human needs can be met not only in the present but also for future generations. But we can’t stick to the school book definition of sustainable consumption. It has to be expanded further. Though in the west the concept of farm to fork is convenient, but in a developing country like India it is reuse and recycle.

As defined by the Oslo Symposium in 1994, sustainable consumption and production (SCP) is about "the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of further generations”.

To ensure sustainable consumption, production practices should respect the biophysical boundaries of the planet and reduce current global consumption rates to gel with the biophysical capacity and produce ecosystem services and benefits.

Sustainability today is shorthand for a complete moral system of cultural values, beliefs and attitudes related to a sense of responsibility for the greater good. Consumers today are being confronted by real and immediate sustainability challenges. Crises no longer seem far away in time or space -- even abstract problems like climate change and the permanence of plastic waste have become pressing and present topics, and consumers say they want progress and solutions.

When it comes to overall responsibility, consumers are looking to companies and governments to lead on providing sustainable solutions to a wide range of problems linking to sustainability. Sustainable development and corporate responsibility both are relevant factors in today’s world. Effective implementation of sustainable growth requires intimate dynamics of company and environment as both need each other to co-exist. Consumers are skeptical of corporate motives and wary of government policies, but know that any solution to the collective problem must involve the collective entities that we currently have.

Overall, while the stakes are getting higher in a broad range of issues (environment, climate, waste, worker’s rights, etc.), eroding trust in government and corporations has left consumers hungry for leadership within the realm of sustainability.

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Divya Patwal


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