Eva Eiderström, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation: four key things that will help ensure a just transition to a fully sustainable consumption model
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AUTHORS: Eva Eiderström
As part of our blog series for World Consumer Rights Day, we asked thought leaders across the world to provide insight into the campaign theme 'The Sustainable Consumer'.
Eva Eiderström is the Director of Ecolabelling and Green Consumption at the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, an environmental NGO established 1909 with 237.000 members.
The environmental crisis we are currently living through will not be easy to solve, but it is possible, and it will take all of us working together as a society. There are four key things that will help ensure a just transition to a fully sustainable consumption model.
1. All products and services should be safe, also from an environmental point of view
What is the logic behind giving consumers the option to make bad consumption choices? Imagine instead that the product safety directive was an international convention and that producers were required to make sure their products and services were energy effective and would not lead to environmental damage before putting them on the market. It would no longer be the burden of society to prove that a product was harmful, and then construct legislative measures to correct the problem. Instead, the producer would be fully liable for the environmental safety of their products or services. An intermediary measure could be to develop generic mandates for all standardization, thus complementing the legal baseline of the product safety directive with environmental safety assurances.
Until then we can all look for third party ecolabelling to guide us to preferable products and services. These labeled products adhere to pre-set criteria and are evaluated to ensure compliance. It is a small step for a consumer to take, but a huge one at the system level in terms of reversing the burden of proof onto the parties that truly possess the means to take full responsibility.
2. The right to know should be a universal
The Aarhus convention regulates the right to access environmental information held by public authorities. Why should only public entities be transparent in this respect? The principle should be expanded to cover all economic actors and an Aarhus convention 2.0 developed that stipulates total disclosure as a norm. All products should be fully declared in terms of content, and the information should be provided in such a form that it facilitates handling through the entire lifecycle. This is particularly important when we take into account the priorities of enabling re-use, refurbishing and finally recycling of materials. An Aarhus convention 2.0 would also come with clear empowering transparency perks like your bank having to disclose to whom and what they lend your money thereby facilitating your choice of financial product, or financial institution.
3. The distribution of benefits should be equitably distributed
Global resource extraction increased from 45 billon tons in 1990 to 92 billion tons in 2017. During the same period the global material footprint of consumption (that reflects all material resources mobilized globally to the final consumer) shows that the high-income group consumes more than 13 times the level of the low-income group (26 tons compared to 2 tons per capita). For resource use to be sustainable, we need to reduce the absolute level by at least 50% and levels of about 8 tonnes per capita is a suggested benchmark for private consumption and 2 tonnes for public consumption.
4. The amount of service rendered by the use of a natural resource unit should aim for infinity and beyond (also known as the genius of Buzz Lightyear)
There is no level of global wealth where material demand has stabilized or declined so decoupling is not happening by itself. In order to solve the equity and sustainability dilemma, we need to be smart about how we use resources.
The sustainable consumer wants to be able to select products that last long and can be repaired. We also want a commitment of the producer to take full responsibility even if the product is reused or resold - guarantees that are connected to the product – not to the buyer. Beyond that, all stakeholders need to employ resource efficient strategies that allows society to leapfrog from our current unsustainable levels of resource use.
The aim can be illustrated by ¨we want the borehole not the power drill¨. By focusing on delivering a service instead of selling products new business models and models of interaction among users emerges. Luckily this holds possible remedies for both the unsustainable, unequitable distribution of current resource use and for the reduction in absolute resource use. A new business models that allows the user to pay only for the service needed will increase accessibility and reduce resource use. A service provider can provide a long term service ensuring their equipment and tools have a high durability, or are cleverly designed for easy repair or upgrading. This area is also one where we all already naturally take part by lending each other a hand – or a power drill – and without further ado we can engage in it further. The trick is to define what you actually aim for, and then investigate what other options to achieve this there are apart from buying a product.
Your neighbour might have a power drill you can ask to borrow (since they lie mostly idle), a handyman’s shop can lend or rent you tools, or you can ask a professional to help you. Another way to reduce your surplus products is to donate to second-hand, develop a joint tool shed in your community with your collective donations, take part in swapping events, social media sharing communities and channels for private second-hand renting or sales.
We should aim for Buzz Lightyear’s slogan “to infinity and beyond” when it comes to getting the most services per product produced. Sharing or collaborating is a strategy that brings communities together and works particularly well if also geared at the reduction of environmental impact. Collaboration builds interdependency, builds trust and allows interactions independent of societal strata.
Take the time to find out more about the Green Action Week, and learn about initiatives in this ongoing transformation. The Green Action Week is the peak of an annual global campaign that is reigniting cultures of sharing and collaboration to create sustainable access to goods and services. At the same time the actions reduce stress on the planet through building a sharing community. In 2019, 50 civil society organisations across 30 countries participated.