Three billion consumers are expected to be part of the middle class by 2050. If these emerging middle class consumers want a lifestyle like today's western lifestyles we would need at least three planet earths. We will soon be at a tipping point. The critical actors in growing sustainable consumption are consumers themselves. Here's what sustainability for tomorrow's consumer means.
We can be sure of one thing about the future – it will be radically different from today. The global recession shows how quickly things can change. We face much greater challenges to our economy and way of life, such as scarcity of key resources, rapid population growth, climate change and loss of biodiversity. Sustainability is no longer a nice to have. It is crucial that we start to focus on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainability has become a human security and survival issue. We need an agenda to help improve the lives of everyone who participates in tomorrow's global economy.
We are a consumption oriented society. The success of individuals, society and businesses as a whole has systematically been linked with consumption. However, the whole consumption trend and habits aren’t supporting environmental protection. People are often being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need. Globally, we already consume 30% more resources each year than our planet can replenish.
Your demand can be a powerful force to encourage companies to switch to more sustainable production practices and sell more environmentally-friendly products. Sustainable consumption will remain a niche if majority of people don’t have enough information, opportunity or motivation to make sustainable choices. Unless you become a more conscious consumer and only choose within a set of sustainable options sustainability might become a trend. Right now, we know that simply buying more and more ‘stuff’, doesn’t make us any happier, and certainly doesn’t promote community cohesion. Smart consumption involves transactions for goods and services that have a positive social benefit, where novelty and implied personal status are far less important than they are today.
Choose the green option
We love to consume and there is an opportunity to consume responsibly. Adopting sustainable behaviors might seem hard because you feel that you cannot always choose more sustainable lifestyle options. Often because sustainable options are more expensive or not readily available.
Nevertheless, there are large numbers of environmentally-friendly and sustainable produced products available. Even though the sustainable option is more expensive you can often reduce your consumption by buying long lasting items instead of cheaper versions several times. Next time you go to the grocery store you can start by choosing the greener option by looking out for items with recycled content, such as recycled toilet paper. You can also choose organically produced food and biodegradable cleaning products which have fewer negative impacts on the soil and water system. So they cost a bit more than their toxic equivalents, but you can often use considerably less quantity. Actively choose brands that make their sustainability credentials clear in their marketing and have integrated it in both their purpose and products.
We have produced more than 9 billion tons of plastic since 1950. Plastic constitutes approximately 90% of all trash floating on the ocean's surface. Approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide annually, according to plastic statistics from the organization Ocean Crusaders. Product packaging and disposable bags are just a waste – what you really want is what’s inside. Less packaging could reduce what you buy – and immediately throw away – by about 10%. This means less waste in landfills, which release large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Try to avoid overly packaged items and choose to reuse when it comes to shopping bags and bottled water. So when you go grocery shopping, bring recycled, reusable bags with you. It's better than buying plastic bags every time.
Consumers of the future will need to think, act and live very differently from how they do now. Sustainability is a benefit rather than a sacrifice, and there is no need to sacrifice price and quality for sustainability. Perhaps in the ideal future unsustainable products or services will no longer be available but until then we will need to continue to make simple changes which can lead to new habits. You can start to easily change small, everyday actions that will benefit the environment for today’s and future generations.
Learn 3 tips to a more sustainable everyday life.