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