By Bronagh Loughlin
Nowadays, all products and goods that we want to buy are literally a click away. The rise of technology means that anything we want we can have. We simply look it up, click order and the item will arrive at our doors in just a few days.
The products we consume come from near and far with many consumers being unaware of the impacts of purchasing in this way. Environmental impacts and carbon emissions are present in practically every stage of the supply chain, from when the product is created to the last stages of product life when the product is being disposed of. Energy is used all along the supply chain.
The problem? Our production and consumption habits are greatly hurting our precious planet. Society’s current economic model is linear. In other words, the linear model follows this chain of events: the extraction of resources, manufacturing, distribution, purchase, consumption and finally the disposal of the product.
The linear economy is not a sustainable consumption model and we are going to tell you why. During the first stage of the linear model, there is the extraction of finite resources and many of these resources are non-renewable or they regenerate very slowly.
During the production stage of the linear model, harmful chemicals are being used in the process in order to facilitate and increase production. In addition, production is often offshored to developing countries which generally have quite lax regulations. Polluting or toxic by-products are generated. Therefore, massive extraction and production may even interfere with nature’s cycles.
Then, there is a dual problem in the product distribution and purchase phase. That is that a majority of the time, a product’s price does not reflect its true environmental or social costs, eg the costs of pollution or cheap labour which impact both people’s health and their living standards.
In addition, the growth is based on planned obsolescence. In other words, it is based on having to repeatedly buy the same product which has an ever-shorter use life. In the end of the linear economy, most products are thrown out.
Now that you know what the problems are with the way we produce and consume goods and services, what is the solution? The solution lies in adopting a new consumption model, that of the circular economy whereby obsolete products are repaired and reused.
Another part of the solution is for consumers to become conscious consumers whereby they ask themselves what they are buying and whether they need a particular product. If you didn’t think our production and consumption habits are hurting the planet, listen to this. Each year, an estimated one third of all food produced ends up rotting in the bins of consumers and retailers or spoiling due to poor harvesting and transportation practices.
This number of food is equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes and estimated to be worth around $1 trillion. That is a huge amount of food and money that is essentially going to waste. If that figure doesn’t spook you, listen to this one. According to Echo Live, 225,000 tonnes of textile waste is disposed of each year in Ireland alone.
What can we do? Companies need to really think about what is being said here. It is absolutely vital that businesses make an effort to make their model more sustainable. Alongside that, the future consumers for most businesses will be millennials and people within generation Z.
Why is this important? Well, Nielsen found that these generations will pay more for sustainable offerings and for products that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impacts.
Where do we go from here? Let’s start with how businesses can implement sustainable production and consumption principles. First map out your carbon impacts, you can do this by using the scope 3 method (you can read about this in our Report on Sustainable Production and Consumption).
Next, make plans to actually reduce your carbon impacts with tangible, realistic and timely targets. Finally, encourage your suppliers and buyers to implement sustainable practices and reduce their environmental impact.
Now, let’s talk about what consumers can do. First, purchase goods and services from local businesses and suppliers where possible. Only purchase goods that are actually needed to ensure there is less waste and that less products are ending up in landfill.
Purchase products and services from companies who are using sustainable practices and are aiming to reduce their carbon footprint. Finally, do some research on the companies you want to purchase from and ensure they are not employing “greenwashing” tactics.
We owe it to our planet to change the way we produce and consume goods because, as the popular saying goes, there is no Planet B.
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