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Why COVID-19 isn’t the end of 'sharing community'

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how our health and wellbeing are crucially tied to the health of the planet, and yet a recent report by the Global Footprint Network shows that humanity is still depleting nature 1.6 times faster than our Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate. For the last three years, the theme of Green Action Week (GAW), has been ‘sharing community’. From Peru to Papua New Guinea, GAW campaigns have successfully brought communities together with one mission: to reduce the impact of unsustainable consumption and rising inequality. But GAW 2020 is different. We are in the midst of a global pandemic – the passing of goods between hands and the gathering of crowds in marketplaces are largely activities of the past. What were once common ways of collaborating during previous GAW campaigns are now impossible due to social distancing measures.

Yet, promoting sustainable consumption and working together is more important than ever for Consumers International and its global membership.  In our joint statement on consumer protection and COVID-19 we called on the G20 to prioritise sustainability. The current health crisis should not lead to the weakening of existing legislation to protect and promote sustainability, or the delay of urgently needed initiatives in areas such as sustainable finance, food systems, mobility and household energy measures. Practices of sharing community and supporting consumers in sustainable consumption decisions remain key throughout this time of crisis and beyond. Through innovative thinking, our consumer advocate members across the developing world are showcasing why sharing community is crucial now more than ever.

Is the world moving away from sharing community? The evidence

At the height of the pandemic around half of the global population was in lockdown, travel was restricted almost entirely and economies ground to a standstill. Across the world, many rely on local shops, markets and cooperatives for their daily needs. As many closed their doors, access to community life closed too. ln some of Africa’s poorest regions, the pandemic forced many informal food markets to disband. An essential part of community sharing, the closure of these markets damaged local sustainable food systems and impacted the wellbeing and income of the local population.

Lockdowns have also driven us to individualise our consumption, leading to a dramatic rise in single use plastics. While many of these products have been vital in avoiding the spread of COVID-19, the effects on the environment have been disastrous. Already, single-use masks litter beaches. According to the Thailand Environment Institute, plastic waste due to home shopping delivery in Thailand has increased from 1,500 tons to 6,300 tons per day.

Sharing community is still important

Through their GAW 2020 activities, our consumer advocate members are showcasing a new way of thinking and campaigning. Our members are designing creative activities to share resources, promote sustainable practices and advocate for change in these uncertain times. 

  • In Malaysia, the Consumer’s Association of Penang (CAP) are adapting their activities to cater for social distancing. In their mission to share safe solutions for pest control, provide training to local communities and advocate to ban hazardous pesticides, CAP have taken all of their activities online. Training through webinars, sharing resources through digital networks and communicating through social media channels are just a few of the innovative ways they are hoping to empower the community while keeping individuals safe.
  • In Peru, the Asociación Peruana de Consumidores y Usuarios (ASPEC), are taking their activities even further into the digital space. Their campaign centres around the development of a virtual platform to help consumers exchange goods, while also discouraging excessive consumption. It helps communities stay connected during the pandemic by using collaborative social awareness campaigns to encourage care for the environment and the importance of solidarity during these unique times.

Beyond these individual examples of creativity, GAW is bringing us all together, from every part of the world. Maite Cortés from Colectivo Ecologista Jalisco (CEJ) in Mexico told us that despite the pandemic restrictions, GAW has given them an opportunity to feel: 

“that [they] are part of a broader picture and can connect to a bigger international network, and that there are great initiatives going on all over the world and [they] are part of that movement.”

In a time where connections appear more strained than ever, GAW is connecting people and communities across the globe. Through their GAW campaigns our members are showcasing how committed they are to driving sustainable consumption and progressing towards Sustainable Development Goal 12.

Green Action Week will take place from 28th September to 4th October 2020. Stay tuned with updates on the member projects and join us by using #GreenActionWeek on Twitter and Facebook. We would also love to hear updates about your campaigns or actions you are taking to promote sustainable consumption in your country or region.