Sustainable Consumption: An Asian Review

This report is an inspirational output of Asian minds, vision, thought, expertise and experience from China to India, Malaysia to Sri Lanka, Indonesia to Bangladesh, Cambodia to Nepal, Thailand to Pakistan, Vietnam to Laos, that took me over the seas and met me with people from governments, civil society, research, industry and labour, who for their times, efforts, hospitalities and sharing that I am forever indebted. I encourage the reader to use the information of this publication freely and would appreciate if due acknowledgement is made and copies are forwarded to us for reference.

Uchita de Zoysa
17th June 2007


An Introduction:

A Holistic Approach to Sustainable Consumption in Asia

The Asian Review on Sustainable Consumption of the SC.Asia project emerged from a proposal made at the first Asia Pacific Expert Group Meeting on Sustainable Consumption and Production held in Yogyakartha, Indonesia in year 2003. I recall a small group of us from NGOs and UNEP forming the idea of a project based around the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection (Section G. Sustainable Consumption), but essentially for me this was a vehicle to take us in Asia to find out the thinking on sustainable consumption in Asia and to promote the concept amongst governments and its stakeholders. The actual realisation of the proposal was at the second Asia Pacific Expert Group Meeting on SCP held in Seoul, Korea in 2003. This time we new exactly how to sell the idea to the forum of experts and to get the three important UN agencies of UNDESA, UNESCAP and UNEP to include these into the list of regional recommendations for the 10Year Framework of Programmes. The two other proposals included creating a “Regional SCP Help Desk” and initiating a process to encourage formulation of “National Action Plans on SCP”. The SC.Asia project resulted in publishing the report “Advancing Sustainable Consumption in Asia: A Guidance Manual”, but stopped short of capacity building and national SC action plan development as originally expected.

The Asian Review on Sustainable Consumption was not officially published by the SC.Asia project, but provided a base for broader thinking to evolve in the Asian SC Guidance Manual. It significantly differs from the approach of the Guidance Manual that was influenced by an Advisory Board made of two Members from UNEP, two Members from Consumers International, one member from the Danish Consumer Council and myself as the only active Asian representative. The Asian Review on SC takes a more holistic approach towards sustainable consumption and challenges the current approach and outlook of the United Nations 10 Year Framework of Programmes on SCP, popularly called the Marrakech process. It rejects the notion that eco-innovation or greening the consumer should be the main focus of sustainable consumption in Asia, and essentially proposes that the primary goal of sustainable consumption should be to assure quality of life for all. It suggests that sustainable consumption planning should target to enable wellbeing and ensure happiness for all people.

The Asian Review on SC argues that sustainable consumption needs to be discussed in the interest of half of the world’s population that are in poverty, while addressing the over consumption issues of the developed countries. The Asian Review on SC emphasises that equity in consumption is a major challenge of the international community that seeks to regulate unsustainable consumption patterns. For this, if the SCP agenda cannot address the basis requirement of most humans on earth such as food, clothing and shelter and understand that issues such as food security, fair trade and good governance are intrinsically linked to creating sustainable consumption, then the process will naturally fail the people’s aspiration for a sustainable world.

The Asian Review on SC is herewith published with a view of initiating a broader dialogue on the deeper meanings of sustainable consumption to Asians. The dialogue while essentially being centred in and around Asia, also should invite other regions to join and inspire a greater global debate on sustainable consumption. The dialogue was initiated by the Centre for Environment and Development when we conducted the Asian Review on SC by inviting over a hundred of organizations to join the national and regional review. These hundred plus organisations were represented by some of the most knowledgeable thinkers, researchers, activists and administrators on sustainability in the region. These organisations while providing a conceptual framework for sustainable consumption in Asia also helped us out in identifying a framework for implementation. They also provided us with over fifty case studies of sustainable consumption initiatives that provide testimony to an Asian experience on sustainable consumption.

The Asian Review on SC was conducted in the year 2004, but has evolved into a continuous process to include more nations, more people, more processes and more dialogues. We are in search of an Asian Framework for Sustainable consumption that can be translated in to a clear set of actionable goals. This report provides a preliminary framework towards promoting sustainable consumption in Asia where half of the global humanity resides, and hope to inspire the other half to join us in creating a sustainable world.

The preliminary research of the Asian Review on SC was conducted with part of the funding provided by the Asia Pro-Eco Programme of the European Union that was allocated to SC.Asia Project. Unfortunately the lead facilitators of the SC.Asia project did not possess the vision and commitment to continue with its mandate to support Asian governments to develop national SC Strategies and action plans. In this respect, the findings of the Asia Review on SC initially published in draft form in the year 2004 has not been adequately made use of by its potential beneficiaries in the region and rest of the world.

The hope of this report is to find its way towards potential beneficiaries from government, NGOs, academia, industry and other to be inspired by an Asian vision, thought, expertise and experience from China to India, Malaysia to Sri Lanka, Indonesia to Bangladesh, Cambodia to Nepal, Thailand to Pakistan and Vietnam to Laos. This report maintains its original findings of 2004 and therefore may not be precise to the currently evolved information on sustainable consumption in the region. In this regard, we plan to embark on a second stage of the Asian Review on SC to deliberate and propose an “Asian Framework on Sustainable Consumption”.

The Asian Review is in three volumes. Volume one is this report and volume two contains the case studies. The objective of the case studies is to provide proof of Asian initiatives to promote sustainable consumption. The third volume is a collection of questionnaires, survey forms and interview guides that were designed exclusively in the year 2004 for the Asian Review on Sustainable Consumption as a part of the SC.Asia project. The initial task was to frame the questionnaires to suite the SC.Asia project requirement which was guided by the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (Section G. Promotion of Sustainable Consumption).

The report, case studies and survey formats of the Asian Review on Sustainable Consumption are now available on CD ROM, print and also electronically. Interested organizations and individuals are cordially invited to request for copies by sending an email to .

I invite you to join us in creating a better world of sustainable futures!

Asian Model for Sustainable Consumption

The above criteria provide a basis for a framework of sustainable consumption policy and action in Asia. The following model to achieve sustainable consumption in Asia is therefore a preliminary step towards guiding such an Asian Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption. The model places wellbeing and happiness as ultimate objectives of sustainable consumption in Asia, while placing quality livelihood for all as the overall goal to be achieved in the process. But it challenges that concrete SC action as identified by the international SCP process lead by the United Nations can only be a mechanism to achieve a higher goal in SC. It also proposes that concrete SC actions too can only be implemented by providing basic SC needs of people, enabling required conditions for SC action and by developing supporting means to encourage SC action.

It is now to be further investigated and researched as to what wellbeing and happiness constitutes for people in Asia.

Chapter 01: Ensuring Wellbeing and Happiness in Asia

Asia is the most populated continent on earth where nearly half of the total global population resides. It is also the home to a large percentage of natural resources and biodiversity on earth. The area embraces the second largest rainforest complex and more than half of the world’s coral reefs.

The ambitions of China and India in becoming developed countries within the next 10 years, Thailand wanting be the kitchen of the world and fashion hub of Asia suggests that the trends in Asia are more geared towards rapid economic growth. Despite cities such as Beijing, Jakarta, Delhi, Bangkok, Manila, Dhaka are being highly populated, congested and also polluted, the want to modernise, be sophisticated, trendy and competitive further provides evidence that Asia has already embarked on the vision of rapid economic growth as a strategy for the upliftment of their living standards.

Asia with a clear majority of the consumers on earth, housing seventy percent of the global poor, holding the ownership to a large percentage of the world’s natural resources, and also having twelve of the fifteen cities having the highest levels of particulate pollution does pose a serious challenge towards achieving sustainable consumption not only in Asia but also on the entire planet.

The question in focus is whether Asia can meet the challenge and whether it is ready to meet it? The present generation may hold the answers as their ambitions, determinations, actions and commitments will directly impact on the environment and livelihood at large.

Although the present national determinations and consumer aspirations show higher consumerist trends, the traditional and cultural background of sustainable livelihood in all over Asia still holds a key to the future as well. While the waves of consumerism are rapidly blowing across Asian nations, a majority of people in the countries of Asia are still living in rural and city slum environments and living low consumption lifestyles without a choice. The wellbeing of these people will depend on a new global socio-economic regime of equitable distribution of resources and opportunities. It is also interesting to note the findings of the

It is worthy to take note of the Happy Planet Index of the New Economic Foundation and review the levels of happiness of the Asian countries selected for the SC.Asia Project. While the United Sates of America (USA) is ranked 150th out of 175 countries, Vietnam is ranked 13th, Sri Lanka 15th, Philippines 17th and Indonesia 23rd happiest people on earth. During 1975-2003, wealthy nations such as the United States of America significantly increased their resource use while increasing their quality of life, this did not hold for poorer nations, notably China or India, where significant increases in HDI were achieved while their per person footprints remained below global per person bio-capacity.

The hope of achieving sustainable consumption in Asia can be based on the knowledge to action partnerships between the intellect and civil society’s and the pressure placed upon on governments to make commitments and industries to behave with responsibility. The larger consumer of resources in Asia are the industries and particularly with multinational affiliations. They also consumer larger amounts of services such as energy which in turn places tremendous pressure on the consumption opportunities of the individual consumer. The lack of capacity of Asian governments to regulate the large ecological footprints of high consuming industry and business is a major challenge faced in achieving wellbeing of all Asian country citizens.

Actual implementation of programmes and processes to promote sustainable consumption in Asia is presently limited. All sectors within the society, including government, industry, civil society and consumers in Asia lacks in-depth understanding of the conceptual framework of Sustainable Consumption and thus have little expertise to deal with the guidelines, tools and mechanics developed at the international level.

However, it should be noted that a significant readiness to accept Sustainable Consumption into National Development Planning and Implementation is prevailing in Asia. Even though the exact terminology in sustainable Consumption may not be used, majority of Asian Countries do have complimentary legislative instruments that can be traced in their constitutions, environmental acts, consumer protection acts, national standards, national policy statements, national sustainable development strategies, and national poverty alleviation strategies, etc.

In Asia most of the action that can be related to Sustainable Consumption is based on voluntary action. Be it recycling, certification, product testing, consumer behaviour research or procurement practices within Organizations, most of the projects and programmes are carried out voluntarily by the concerned parties mainly due to economic benefits. It is also largely perceived that voluntary process through realisation, understanding or commitments actually works much better in Asia than through enforcement by law and legislation. In fact the inadequacies in capacity to conduct monitoring and enforcement becomes a major constrain to achieve desired expectations of legislative mechanisms in Asia.

Asian governments seems to shy away from providing economic incentives to industrial, business and other promoters of sustainable practices. The conceptual divide between the more powerful Finance, Trade & Policy Ministries and line ministries of Asian Governments dealing with Sustainable Consumption such as Environment and Consumer Affairs is a main reason for the lack of progress in promoting and accelerating the sustainability movement in Asia. While many governments are moving away from subsidy economies there seems to be a lack of strategy to deal with controlling the escalating commodity prices created by global trade and marketing regimes. Further more the lack of initiative by Asian Governments to provide economic incentives to sustainable consumption based action such as organic and eco-food, energy efficient products and environmental friendly technological equipment is a reason for eco-products to being limited to the access of upper society. Such products and services do not have a competitive advantage in the market as the pricing is significantly higher for a vast majority of the consumers in Asia whose purchasing is predominantly determined by the factor of pricing. The grievance of the consumer and the out cry by the civil society is the decision by many Asian Governments to subsidies imports and foreign investment industries while removing the subsidies on essential consumer commodities and services. The lack of power and leverage of Asian governments within the prevailing trade system of the world is given as a major reason for the lack of fair trade”. If Sustainable Consumption is to be achieved in Asia, a system of “fair trade” needs to prevail in the world as well as internally in each of these countries.

The Asian consumer ultimately will hold the key towards deciding their own sustainable futures. Currently in Asia consumers in general are not well informed, lack understanding of their rights, are not conscious of their responsibilities, and mostly are weak in their bargaining power. While the rural consumer lacks access to the resources, services and opportunities. The lack of strong consumer protection movements in many Asian countries disables the consumer further in achieving the right standards of living. In countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand consumer protection acts were introduced only recently and the proper implementation seems to be far away from being carried out in actuality. In Bangladesh the Consumer Protection Act is in draft form for many years but fails to achieve the final approval from the legislature. The lack of civil society ability to be organised to protect the consumer at large and individually reduces the opportunities for sustainable consumption in these countries. Consumer movements in countries like India that has evolved to the level of consumer courts and independent product testing during the past several decades should now extend its experience and expertise to the weaker countries if to achieve regional consumer sustainability.

The lack of consumer consciousness and commitment is directly related to lack of awareness. While the consumerism expansion movement of the joint forces of industry, business, transnational trade and advertising have the enormous power of capital wealth to invest in promoting brands, products, services to attract and induce consumers, the consumer protection movement both in the civil society and government lacks such economic capacity and power to invest in promoting sustainable consumption. Not only the individual consumer or community consumer but the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector in Asian countries too are victims of this imbalance of the economies of power. Some sustainability and social upliftment attempts through corporate social responsibility (CSR) and Social Responsibility Investment (SRI) projects are made by the large corporate companies in the region. Unfortunately the main focus of most of these efforts are based on corporate image building and economic benefits rather than actual community or consumer welfare and development objectives, and therefore fails to deliver the goods to the people.

The trend of public private partnership despite all the hype created at international level still has to find its true sense on partnership building for sustainability in Asia. Most corporate partnerships with government lacks larger motive criteria but promise great potential and value in both CSR and also in achieving sustainable consumption.

The findings of the Asian Review on Sustainable Consumption can be summarised as below;

The Main Objective and Goal of Sustainable Consumption in Asia: Creating “Wellbeing” and “Happiness” among all people was identified as the main objective and goal of sustainable consummation in Asia.

The Main Challenge in Achieving Sustainable Consumption in Asia: Providing “Better Living Standards” is the primary challenge in achieving sustainable consumption for people in Asia.

Concrete SC Action Programmes in achieving Sustainable Consumption in Asia:

  1. Awareness, Education & Marketing Campaigns
  2. Reduce, Reuse, Recover & Recycle - Waste Management
  3. Certification & Product Information
  4. Implementing Sustainable Practices
  5. Independent Testing

Supporting Means to Encourage SC Action in Asia:

  1. Finance, Infrastructure & Capacity Building
  2. Strengthening Monitoring & Enforcement
  3. Effective Economic Instruments
  4. Corporate Social Responsibility
  5. Strengthening Legislative Instruments
  6. Consumer Behaviour Research
  7. Efficient & Appropriate Technology
  8. Consumer Organizations and Movements
  9. Psychological and Spiritual Development

Required Conditions for SC Action in achieving Sustainable Consumption in Asia:

  1. Developing a sufficiency economy
  2. Creating an Informed Society
  3. Providing Food Security and Safety
  4. Assuring Health, Nutrition & Sanitation
  5. Developing Environmentally sound products and services
  6. Poverty Alleviation
  7. Enforcing Good Governance

Basic SC Needs in achieving Sustainable Consumption in Asia:

  1. Clean Air & Water
  2. Food, Clothing, Shelter and Other consumables required for life
  3. Energy, Transport, Communication Services
  4. Education, Entertainment & Leisure


An Introduction: A Holistic Approach to Sustainable Consumption in Asia

The Process: In Search of Sustainable Consumption in Asia

Chapter 01: Ensuring Wellbeing and Happiness in Asia

Chapter 02: Creating Better Living Standards for all

Chapter 03: Providing Basic Sustainable Consumption Needs

Chapter 04: Enabling Required Conditions for Sustainable Consumption Action

Chapter 05: Developing Supporting Means to Encourage Sustainable Consumption Action

Chapter 06: Implementing Concrete Sustainable Consumption Action

Conclusions: Towards an Asian Sustainable Consumption Framework

Annexure 01: Asian Case Study Summary
Annexure 02: Asian Review Survey Formats
Annexure 03: Organization List of Country Participants in the Asian Review on SC
Annexure 04: Glossary

Asian Case Studies

This report “Sustainable Consumption: Asian Case Studies” is a part of the Asian Review on Sustainable Consumption. Other than a few acquired through a desk research, most of the cases were personally experienced by me during the country review visits. The case studies provide the reader a cross section of activities in Asia as efforts made by various organizations from government to civil society and industry towards capacity building for sustainable consumption. I am overwhelmed by the Asian experience from China to India, Malaysia to Sri Lanka, Indonesia to Bangladesh, Cambodia to Nepal, Thailand to Pakistan, Vietnam to Laos, and eternally grateful for sharing that knowledge, which I in return wish to share with you.

Case Study Summary
1. A Legal Arsenal of the Philippine Environment
2. Ban on Polythene Shopping Bags in Bangladesh
3. Business Performance Rating System & Eco-office Programme
4. Comparison and Analysis of the Efficacy of Applying Chemical Fertilizers and Ecological Fertilizers in Typical Areas in China
5. Campaign to mitigate air pollution from motor vehicles in the Dhaka City
6. Capacity Building and Policy Reinforcement for Waste Management in Cambodia
7. China BELL (Business, Environment, Learning and Leadership in China)
8. China Environmental Labelling Scheme & its Impact on Chinese Society
9. CII Community Development Project in Bihar
10. Comparative Testing of Products in India
11. Community Based Sustainable Tourism Project
12. Consumer Protection Act of 1986, Consumer Protection Council & Consumer Courts in India
13. Consumer Electronic Re-cycling in China
14. “Cotton Bag Program”
15. Deposit Refund Scheme For Battery Treatment
16. Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 (Republic Act 9003)
18. Environmental Court Act, 2000 of Bangladesh
19. Environmental Hygiene Awareness Campaign
20. Essential Health Care Program of BRAC
21. Executive Order No. 301 : “Establishing a Green Procurement Program for All Departments, Bureaus, Offices and Agencies of the Executive Branch of Government
22. Fuel Substitution In The Rural Sector
23. Garbage Bank
24. Grameen Bank Model of Micro Credit for the Poor and the “Struggling Member Programme (for Beggars)”
25. Green Choice Philippines – the National Ecolabelling Programme and the Granting of Seal to the Pride Powder Laundry Detergents
26. Green Community Foundation
27. Green Kampong
28. "Green Label Scheme" and "Green Purchasing Network (GPN)"
29. Green Technology Audit and Implementation
30. Impartial Product Testing Laboratory in India
31. Income Generation from Waste for Waste Pickers in Cambodia
32. Indonesian Livable Communities Initiative
33. IT Waste Re-cycling in China
34. Lead Acid Battery Recovery and Recycling Program —Balik-Baterya (Battery Return) and Bantay Baterya ( Battery Watch )
35. Organic Agriculture Development (Organic standard/regulation and organic certifier body)
36. Nationwide Search for Model Barangays for Eco-waste Management System
37. Nayakrishi Andolon: Planting the Seeds of Joy - An Initiative of Bangladesh Peasants for a Better Living
38. Partnering The Reconstruction And Rehabilitation Work in Gujarat
39. Promoting Circular Economy in China
40. Philippine Clean Air Act (Republic Act 8749)
41. Rain Water Harvesting in Tamil Nadu
42. Republic Act (RA) 9275 (The Philippine Clean water Act of 2004)
43. “Magic Eye”
44. Recycling of flowers offered Gods in Temples in Mumbai
45. Rules And Regulations Implementing The Environmental User Fee System In The Laguna De Bay Region
46. The Dawn or “Rung Arun” Project (Energy and Environmental Education in Thailand)
47. Take back system for lead-acid batteries
49. The Greenest Steel Plant in the World
50. TERI Corporate Awards for Environmental Excellence & Corporate Social Responsibility
51. TOGA: The Green Pharmacy
52. Vehicular Pollution Control In New Delhi, India
53. Waste Not

Asian Review Survey Formats

This collection of questionnaires, survey formats and interview guides were original thinking that evolved due to lack of such studies conducted during early 2004 and reached over 100 organization in Asia from representing governments, civil society, research, industry and labour from China to India, Malaysia to Sri Lanka, Indonesia to Bangladesh, Cambodia to Nepal, Thailand to Pakistan, Vietnam to Laos, to whom for their time, efforts, and sharing that I am forever indebted and now make public for any researcher to make use of.


Desk Research Guide
Preliminary Survey Questionnaire
Interview Guide
Best Practices Survey Questionnaire
Case Study Format

Attachment 01: United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection (Section G. Promotion of Sustainable Consumption)
Attachment 02: Survey Participants List