If you knew me growing up you’d probably say I was one of those ‘greenies’. Back in high school I was already active in organizations that aimed to help the environment, I went to summer camps on wildlife and marine conservation, headed reforestation activities, and spent most of my holidays and weekends climbing this mountain and that during my four years in university. It was almost second nature to me to try my best not only to nurture the environment, but also to ensure that my actions and consumption patterns weren’t going to have any negative externalities on earth.
It just made sense to me given my upbringing: ‘unplug appliances when not in use’, ‘take quick showers’, ‘dispose of trash properly’, ‘use less paper’, ‘opt for a reusable bag’ and let’s not forget the good old ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’.
Back then I thought that conserving the environment was important, now I know that it is a non-negotiable. This is not only for environmentalists, but also increasingly now for development practitioners. The onset of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) has created the crucial link between the health of the planet and development and progress that the human species has always yearned for.
For me, responsible consumption is the closest and most accessible option that individual citizens have to making sustainability a reality instead of being just another development buzzword. It is important that as consumers, we realize that we have an option just not to blindly consume, but to really think about our purchases. Next time you buy something in the department store spare a few seconds and ask not only the usual ‘do I really need this’, but probe a little deeper and think ‘who made this, where did the raw materials come from, how much raw materials and energy was used, how far did this have to travel just to get to me, how long will this garment really last?’
Those questions not only reflect the cost on the environment but also considers the social and human costs, energy and fuel consumption, and maybe even the planned obsolescence behind certain cheap products that leaves us constantly repurchasing after one or two uses.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there’s anything inherently evil or selfish in consuming, we’ve been consuming resources in order to survive as a specie. What’s problematic though is the mindless consumerism that we’ve set our economies and ultimately our sense of development on. We buy, we discard, the economy grows, but do we even think about the life cycle of the products that we buy. Most people will rarely give a time of day to where their products come from or where they will go to once they’re in the bin. For me, certain ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality has been bred and reinforced by this constant stream of validation on why we need to consume more and more.
The SGD on responsible consumption also highlights that point that the goals are merely guidelines and roadmaps, the solutions to social, economic, and environmental problems that we face can’t be found in them just by agreeing to them. The solutions must come from concrete actions from people, organizations, communities, and governments. However it must also be clarified that this goal for sustainable consumption is not only aimed for individual consumers. It also stands as a challenge to companies, manufacturers, and institutions like governments to help facilitate and make responsible consumption easier and more accessible for their markets.