How much longer we can afford to pollute the climate for our consumption? (SDGs12) Part B

An albatross stuffed to death by trash, a sea turtle choked to death by a straw, how much longer we can afford to pollute the climate for our consumption? 

(SDGs 12: Responsible consumption and production)

Original Article: Ms. Sara Yeh

Sources: NPOst (http://npost.tw/archives/40998)

Translated by: Eden Social Welfare Foundation

Special thanks to Joseph Winkler (translation volunteer)

 

Where does the consumers’ power come from?

Even Taiwan is desperately in need of the circular economy. Changing the economic development model from a fundamental point, reaching the goal of sustainable consumption and production are not only limited to Taiwan. Due to globalization, the manufacturing process has often been extended to too long, across continents, oceans and landmasses, not to mention the consumers who are far away from production lines. Even multinational corporations are having difficulty in grasping the entire network of their own downstream suppliers constantly forwarding packets in different regions and countries.

However, the global network of production and consumption is closely connected. Taking electrical waste as the example, according to the research by United Nations University (UNU), electrical waste has reached 4180 thousand tons globally in the year 2014, hitting a record high. More than that, according to research, electronic products have the largest carbon footprints of all materials consumed by Taiwanese. In the age of information technology, the daily life of Westerners and Taiwanese are constructed by mobile phones, PDA, laptops, PC, portable charger and media players, while Guiyu and Taizhou in China, and Ghana and Nigeria in Africa are filled with electrical waste. The convenient digital life that Westerners and Taiwanese enjoy is based on the dust, toxic heavy metals and red coloured rivers seen in Africa and China. The pollution we cause is as severe as the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant meltdown.

photo credit : Ant Rozetsky @ unsplash

It is easy to observe that the behaviour of enterprises and factories are motivated by consumer markets. In order to force enterprises to move towards sustainable production, the consumer behaviour must change. Developing countries are not only the places for industrial development but also areas with the ability to fight large international enterprises. The responsibilities of developed countries are not limited to industrial waste production and the emissions in front of us. Everything behind issues such as labour rights violations at Foxconn, cosmetic products or electronic products, conflict diamonds, pollution from open-air waste burning in other countries, and plum oil that effects Malaysian rainforests and orangutans, can only be solved when consumers “consciously” realize the impact behind each product that they consume. Only then can we ask the enterprises to comply with the sustainability-related laws, and monitoring the behaviour of downstream suppliers. 

Of course, the power and understanding of consumers mainly come from information acquired and disclosed by enterprises, such as the report on carbon footprints and the production life circle, for example (Note 3). However, this kind of information disclosure can’t be forced on many areas of the world, we can only encourage the owners of the enterprises to disclose voluntarily. The Environmental Protection Administration, R.O.C.(Taiwan) amended, “Waste Disposal Act”, “Resource Recycling Act Enforcement Rules”, later combined as “Resource Recycling Act”, hoping to regulate the disclosure of environmental related information. However, the draft had been suspended for 10 years and has no further developments, even the draft bill on sustainable development issued by National Council for Sustainable Development in compliance to SDGs did not mention it.

photo credit: Chi-Hung Lin @ flickr; CC BY-SA 2.0

Mobile production under circular economic model

Therefore, in addition to disclosure on environmental information by consumers’ choices , enterprises reaching sustainability development, changing personal consumer habits at the same time, reduce plastic usage avoid impulse buy, replace “services” with “processing”, supporting organizations like Greenpeace, Green Citizens’ Action Alliance, and Citizen of the Earth, Taiwan (CET) . Organizations mentioned above monitor enterprises and corporations through research, investigation, advocacies, events and petitions. They channel consumers to express their voices and opinions, expanding their influence. For example, the pressure brought on companies like ACER from Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics, large brands like P&G and SHISEIDO to ban the use of microbeads in their products. It is obvious that only those consumers and citizens who support sustainable consumption and production will continue to be aware of environmental issues. Together with manufacturers who are willing to seek innovation and sustainable development,  governments that are willing to develop circular economies and encourage green industries can let everyone who lives in them all move towards "sustainable and cost-effective" consumption and production.

Note 1: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2015,Sustainable Consumption and Production Global edition. A Handbook for Policymakers,Box 1:4

Note 2: Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP)

To enterprises, if green products have a larger market than traditional products then they will have enough energy to develop sustainable production. Therefore, when the government is purchasing products or services, apart from meeting the needs of an operation, in order to minimize the burdens to environment which are created by products and services, has more power to push the structural sustainable production of enterprises than personal scattered powers, becoming the index of other production chain, that is Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP).  SPP was key to meeting the 10 YPF at the 1992 Rio Global Summit and is even more important in developing countries. In Taiwan, until the year 2016, green purchases from the government reached 97.18%, and the number is estimated to reach 97.5 % by the year 2020. 

Note 3: Life-cycle assessment (LCA)

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a tool that can be used to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of a product, material, process, or activity. An LCA is a comprehensive method for assessing a range of environmental impacts across the full lifecycle of a product system, from material acquisition to manufacturing, use and final disposal.

For example, do electronic cars really have less impact on the environment than petrol cars? If the power of electronic cars comes from fossil fuel power, does that mean the emission comes from power plants instead of exhaust pipes? LCA not only examines the overall production chain on the market, it also searches for the hotspot of the environmental footprint, and the unseen external cost (for example, it costs 8000 lt. of water to produce a pair of jeans). It even takes the working conditions, human rights, and local communities into consideration. Thus, enabling manufacturers, suppliers and consumers to make the right decisions, which benefits the sustainability of the environment.

photo credit: Brina Blum @ Unsplash