World Consumer Rights Day 2020 is observed on 15 March, with the theme ‘The Sustainable Consumer’. This theme is relevant ever before. The campaign will discuss the need for sustainable consumption globally, as well as highlighting the important role that consumer rights and protection can play.
Our economic productivity on a global level is being curbed by the rapid outbreak of COVID 19, but it is certainly not the way to bring a slowdown to the otherwise rapid depletion of existing and readily available natural resources. What is needed is a realisation within every human that we cannot continue to grow as a species and enjoy a high quality of life without changing the lifestyle and the way we do things.
Since everyone consumes, consumers certainly do have a huge role to play in achieving sustainable development. They hold the power to influence production decisions, based on what goods and services they purchase. So if consumers prefer to buy and use products and services that have minimal environmental impact, it would result in a higher demand for such products and services, and enhance the production. As consumer markets revolve around consumer demand, firms look to see that they produce sustainable products and services thus addressing what consumers need in order to stay in business. So choices and decisions made by each and every individual will make a real difference to the fulfilment of meeting development goals and have significant social, economic and environmental implications.
Countries like India, known for the moral ethos of its people, compassion and respect for nature and creations, living in ecological harmony with nature have evolved sustainable lifestyle since ages. They have a history of low carbon footprint and sustainable lifestyle. That’s why this recent hype on the importance of adopting the ten R’s – Refuse , Reduce, Renew, Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture, Repurpose, Re-cycle, Recover – in everyday living though might be relatively new globally, is nothing new to countries like India as this concept has been a part of our culture since ages. There are various examples from the life of people like Mahatma Gandhi and ancient kings, who recognized the importance of sharing and respectful use of resources according to need rather than greed.
Even today it is not an unusual sight in rural and semi-urban areas where neighbours shared common household items like utensils particularly during functions and large gatherings at once place. Hardly new clothes are purchased with birth of every child in a household and it is a common practise for children to wear their elder sibling’s clothes or their cousins. Small scale farmers have always shared tractor, sprayer or other farm equipments as they find such machineries unaffordable, besides the fact that the number of calendar days spent operating it each year is getting smaller.
Likewise, people migrating to far of places in search of jobs often live together in shared accommodations with a common kitchen. In cities, it is still a common trend for the people to give away clothes and goods that are not any more needed to anyone needy, rather than ending up as landfills.
Recycling and remanufacturing
Even high end products like television, refrigerators, mobile phones and cars have a good second hand market. The useful lifetime of a defective product is extended by consumers through repair and remanufacturing. Small scale repair and maintenance shops are a common sight in every locality though remanufacturing industries are yet to create an impact. However gradually with changing time and generations, the habit of using and throwing is significantly catching up our masses causing landfills to swell. If given the required thrust now, remanufacturing sector can prove to be a more sustainable alternative as it restores a used product into new and saves considerable amounts of energy and material in comparison to manufacturing a new part. This needs to be addressed and our old age practices be revived, rather than waiting to be completely replaced by more modern but unsustainable practices and technologies.
One of the major drivers for bringing consumers back to embrace the sharing economy is increasing awareness about the reduced impact on the nature, and it is economical. Cyber world is connecting consumers to share almost everything – from books, furniture’s, home appliances, vehicles, work spaces, homes, agricultural tools, electronic gadgets, and even clothes. Start-ups that facilitate this sharing are now everywhere and the most prominent of this fast growing sector of the economy is the online transportation network that offers shared taxi rides like Ola and Uber in various cities.
The growing acceptance of the concept of sharing economy also benefited hospitality sector. Homestays have boomed in India especially with the arrival of Airbnb, the online market place that enables people to rent their homes and apartment to short-term lodgers. However, the growth of the country through sharing economy is not just limited to cabs, furniture’s, co-working spaces and homestays. They are taking it into areas that are largely unimaginable.
Almost hundreds of kilograms of e-waste, plastics, textiles, metals and other wastes are reused and recycled in such local markers which would otherwise have ended up filling the dump yards. Such markets chips in greatly for reducing the carbon footprint since ages and is an ideal model to showcase how even the informal sector contributes to sustainable waste management and sustainable consumption, something that is overlooked usually.
Promoting sustainable practices
Therefore, it’s high time that countries across the globe identify such age old sustainable practices within their community and promote those more vigorously. The sustainable development goals of the United Nations envisage that by 2030 countries should substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction and reuse. Existing sustainable practises therefore should be encouraged and successful community models be replicated in other parts so that it would become easier for growing cities to manage their resources sustainably – wasting less and sharing more.
(George Cheriyan is Director CUTS International and a member of a global think tank on sustainable consumption)