Helena Leurent, Consumers International: 'For sustainability, there is hope in action'

15 March 2020

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AUTHORS: Helena Leurent

To mark World Consumer Rights Day 2020, Consumers International Director General, Helena Leurent, outlines the importance of collective action to create a more sustainable world and how 150 of our members are bringing the campaign theme of the #SustainableConsumer to life. 

The facts on our environmental impact make for depressing reading – 79% of all the plastic ever produced is currently languishing in landfills, 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction, and sea levels are rising at the fastest rate in 3,000 years.

You don’t have to be a scientist to look out your window and see floods, fires or drought. The climate crisis isn’t in the post, it’s been delivered.

Yet despite this I still feel hope. I am convinced that as an international community we can pull together, we can think smarter, we can create better and we can find a solution to the problem of our lifetime. Because there really isn’t another option. To quote protest banners everywhere ‘there is no planet b.’

It’s with this hope in mind that the consumer movement choose the Sustainable Consumer as the topic for this year’s World Consumer Rights Day. This is the first time we have used our annual awareness day to put sustainability on the worldwide agenda. This represents a shift in focus for the movement, and a recognition that we can and do play a vital role in this challenge.

Consumer Power

Consumers across the globe understand the urgency of the environment crisis and see it as one of the major threats to their country, concerns which have risen significantly in the past seven years.

Globally, 73% of consumers say they would definitely change their consumption habits to reduce their environmental impact. There is a ground swell of consumer action and empowerment on this issue, which will only get bigger as the younger, sustainability-savvy generations become more a influential part of our global society and economy.  

But consumers can only travel so far on their own. Businesses and governments need to remove the barriers to sustainable consumption, namely cost, lack of support and understanding.

It is no longer enough to tweak business as usual. We need new business models, transformed supply chains and an open book attitude to transparency. We need a shakeup of our entire global economic system. 

This won’t be easy, but it will be necessary. And the consumer movement can play an important part in ensuring this is a just transition. 

Taking action on sustainability

That is why I am proud that for my first World Consumer Rights Day as the DG of Consumers International we are focusing on this vital topic of sustainability. I see hope, vision and innovation in the projects our members are running around the world.

The timing of World Consumer Rights Day has fallen during a time that the world is focused on another global challenge, COVID-19. Members have shifted, innovated and flexed their plans in response, always working within local government instruction and sharing WHO guidance. This global pandemic has highlighted now more than ever the importance of international cooperation.

Below is a snapshot of some of these inspiring activities. You can see the full list of over 150 activities on our interactive map, and some further highlights on our live blog.

Utilising technology in Romania

InfoCons Association will be launching their app, Barcode Green – Sustainable Consumer. By scanning the barcode of a product, it gives information where the consumer can find the closer recycling point for the packaging. It also gives information about the content of food additives in the product and its ranking compared with other products in the same category.

Empowering and educating consumers in Malaysia

Our Malaysian members will be engaging school children, on waste, energy, water and biodiversity in order to promote sustainable behaviour from a young age. Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (FOMCA), Selangor and Wilayak Persekutuan Consumer Association and ERA Consumer, will use the day to launch a five-year national campaign on Sustainable and Smart Living.

Changing the story on sustainability in Sweden

To inspire consumers to more sustainable habits, the Swedish Consumers Association will disseminate a series of comic strips to challenge the normative views of what is seen as desirable and high status in today’s Sweden and how this could change in a future, to a more sustainable and conscious society.

Building better businesses in Cape Verde

Associação para Defesa do Consumidor (ADECO) in Cape Verde, will demonstrate how proper waste management can help to protect the environment, by showing small businesses how to use recycled materials in the production of various goods such as tools, art, and clothing, and highlighting the best practices.

Creating legislative change in South Korea

Consumers Korea are evaluating local governments' policies on the production and consumption of local foods to encourage sustainable consumption, celebrating the local government that implements the most sustainable policies and practices. They will also be campaigning against undue compensation to coal power plants.

Moving towards a circular economy in Australia

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) in Australia is holding a campaign on e-waste, encouraging consumers to recycle their old mobile phones, to contribute to the shift towards more sustainable consumption.

Advocating for infrastructure change in Niger

The Association for the Protection of Consumer Rights are urging the government and manufacturers to look into alternative packaging for water sold in plastic sachets. They are also setting up sustainable consumer clubs in local schools, advocating for more water fountains, and promoting the use of plastic waste in the production of materials such as bricks.

Campaigning for change

ASPEC Peru is raising awareness about excessive waste in the food industry through its digital campaign #ConsumidorDateCuenta, which will be supported by the launch of new research.


Promoting safe energy in Yemen

The Yemeni Association for Consumer Protection is highlighting the issue of safe energy and how consumers in Yemen can play a part in its future in the country.