Publicado em 10 de julho de 2005
Traduções disponíveis em: français (original) . Español .

Assuming Responsibilities in Daily Life: Responsible Consumption

por Yolanda ZIAKA

Temas largos ligados: Consumption .

The responsible-consumption movement aims to raise consumer awareness and bring consumers to change their attitudes and behavior in the direction of committing to products applying social and environmental criteria.

Mass consumption and the limits of our planet

World War II brought about, in its wake, an explosion of mass domestic consumption that has continued to grow ever since with the support of television, which is responsible for conveying the new life style associated with this type of consumption. Standardized products and symbols are found today in practically every country and in almost every language (for cultural products). A high consumer and individualistic culture has spread to the whole of the planet. The prevailing idea, dealt out by advertising, is that happiness is the result of private and unlimited consumption; this brings about persistent dissatisfaction, which in turn kindles the desire for more consumption. This widespread consumption model is unrealistic and completely disregards the limits imposed by how the planet’s ecosystems work.

The current international economic order, which is founded on these conceptions, is deeply unfair: “... almost 20% of the world’s population, living mainly in the countries of the North, lives immersed in waste and over-consumption, swiping 80% of all the material and energy produced each year on our planet. Meantime, a mass of over three billion people lives in misery, almost totally lacking material goods.” [1]

This frantic race to production and consumption of cheap, non-sustainable goods has serious consequences on the environment: exorbitant quantities of waste, dwindling reserves of nonrenewable resources, which are spoiling the mechanism of the ecosystems from which the raw materials are extracted and provoking the disappearance of species. These impacts in turn affect the economy and society.

Ethical and responsible consumption

There are nonetheless throughout the world initiatives for different lifestyles that challenge mass-consumption practices and give priority to local cultural practices and their values as a means of survival. Among these movements, there is that of “ethical consumption” or “responsible consumption” (the expression used in Europe), born as a critique of the consumption society. The “responsible consumption” movement promotes a form of consumption concerned with collective wellbeing, and with the impacts on ecosystems and on society in general. It is based on changes in attitudes and behavior and on the adoption of an ethics of responsibility for the long run.

“Responsible consumption” appears as a coming of awareness of the power of consumers, who are indeed important economic actors. Consumers worried about the health and environmental consequences of industrial agriculture have begun to question the origins of the products they consume, and the environmental and social conditions in which these products are made. They are becoming aware of their power and as such, are becoming active players.

Acting to consume differently means paying attention to the final destination of the money that we give to acquire goods and services, thus exercising economic pressure through our purchases. It also involves mobilizing to be given clear information and acting to exercise pressure on companies, and to change the laws.

The same approach is used by the “green consumption” movement, connected to ethical consumption but involving more particularly the consumption of goods and services that have the least possible environmental impact. These are organic farming products, products that are produced with “clean, environment-friendly technologies,” renewable energy, etc. The European Union recently published a guide addressed to public authorities, intended to prompt the public sector to adopt green consumption for its supplies. [2] The city of Kolding in Denmark stands along the same lines by setting an example for its constituents in adopting a different form of consumption favoring eco-responsible purchases. [3] The city is member of the “Green Purchasers Network” and shares information on “green” products with other townships. This action has had repercussions on company practices: in the area of Kolding, more than 200 companies have already adopted ecological management. Some are beginning to put pressure in this direction on their suppliers.

Responsible consumption in the fishing sector

Pressure from environmental-defense groups aiming at responsible and sustainable fishing from an environmental and social point of view has borne fruit, and market outlets are beginning to offer ecologically labeled fish. [4] “Marine Stewardship Council,” a program set up in 1996, is an example. The program set a number of standards and instituted indicators to certify fish reaching the retail market that come from a sustainable, well-managed source. According to the criteria developed by the program, a “sustainable source” is fishery committed to fishing practices that are responsible, environment-friendly, socially beneficial, and economically viable, and preserve the biological diversity, productivity, and ecological processes of the marine environment.

The certification process, which comprises several stages, is triggered on request from a fishery and takes about two years. The first products certified by the program were launched in 2000 and came from fisheries in the United Kingdom for herring, in Australia for lobster, and in Alaska for salmon. Certified fish are now found in supermarkets in countries of the North specialized in selling fish. Several fisheries in developing countries have expressed their interest in acquiring this certification. There is some criticism and concern regarding this type of certification, such as absence of involvement in the process of the fishworkers, absence of consideration of the diversity of fisheries in developing countries, the issue of access to the market, the very high cost of certification, and the autonomy of fishworkers in the traditional sector. Nonetheless, this process shows a possible way toward assuming responsibilities in the fishing sector, based on the incidence of initiatives taken by informed citizens and, in particular, on consumers’ assuming their responsibilities.

The message from the ethical-responsible-consumption movement is addressed to consumers and brings them round to questioning the whole of the products they consume, their production conditions, and their own responsibility. It aims at raising their awareness and at leading them to change their attitudes and behavior in the direction of committing to products reflecting social and environmental criteria. This movement is also addressed to policy makers, whom it tries to sensitize and influence so they adopt policies that are more favorable to trade that respects human dignity and the environment. The movement thus plays an educational role. Obviously, however, progress is still infinitesimal and educational action in this direction needs to be continued and further diversified.
We need to keep in mind that consumer awareness raising does not always lead to appropriate consumption choices due to absence of information on the true social and environmental impacts of the products, to the high price of “organic” and “ethical” products, and to the difficulty—or even sometimes the impossibility—of getting them. All of this explains that a change in mentalities among consumers is not always reflected in the act of purchasing.

[1] F. Soares and Nelson Diehl (coordinators), “Ethical Consumption”, Proposal Papers for the Twenty-first Century Series, Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation, 2001, http://www.alliance21.org/2003/arti...

[2] European Commission, “Buying green! Handbook on green public procurement”, Commission staff working document, SEC (2004) 1050, Brussels, 2004.

[3] I. Ranson, P. Maquet Makedonski, Y. de Morsier (coordinators), “The Territory, a Place of Relations: Toward a Community of Linkage and Sharing”, Proposal Papers for the Twenty-first Century Series, Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation, 2001, http://www.alliance21.org/2003/arti...

[4] International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF, coordinator), “The Troubled Waters of Traditional Fishing”, Proposal Papers for the Twenty-first Century Series, Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation, 2001, http://www.alliance21.org/2003/arti...


puce Mapa do site puce RSS puce vieinterne puce