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!