Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of Date, 2002
Save your wallet, save the planet
Be earth friendly in your daily life: reuse, conserve
By SUSAN ELSTON
In 1992, at the time of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 80 per cent of the world's resources were being consumed by 20 per cent of the world's population.
That 20 per cent includes most developed countries, including Canada.
Ten years later, as we head into the Johannesburg Summit, that same 20 per cent now consumes a staggering 86 per cent of the planet's available resources. Clearly a decade of talking about over-consumption has done little to alter the situation.
The problem is most people just don't care that our pattern of consumption is having a dramatic impact on the global environment.
In preparation for the Johannesburg Summit, the United Nations has taken a number of initiatives aimed at getting this important message across.
Tomorrow's Markets Global Trends and their Implications for Business is a joint publication from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
According to Tomorrow's Markets, the money spent on household consumption worldwide increased 68 per cent between 1980 and 1998. The bulk of this was in "high-income" countries. Purchases by consumers in low-income countries represented less than four per cent of all private consumption.
"The high, unsustainable consumption of the world's affluent consumers can have a negative impact on the environment that is disproportionate to their numbers," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's executive director. "In many ways, the consumption patterns of the rich are being exported to and, therefore, burdening developing countries.
"Our challenge is to change consumption practices in richer countries while at the same time bringing new tools to the table, like the Life-Cycle Initiative, that will ultimately help tackle poverty and ensure a safe and secure environment for long-term sustainable development."
The Life-Cycle Initiative is the result of collaboration between UNEP and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC).
The goal of this program is to assist governments, businesses and consumers to adopt more environment-friendly policies, practices and lifestyles.
"As the world population grows - and it is poised to expand 50 per cent by 2050 - it will be accompanied by an extraordinary growth in consumption," said Toepfer. "Meeting the growing consumption demands of all people while at the same time preserving Earth's natural resources requires new ways of thinking, innovation of new technology and new business models.
"Based on the 'from cradle to grave' or even better, 'from cradle to cradle' approach, the Life-Cycle Initiative will help address problems such as finding alternatives to hazardous substances in products like lead, as well as better systems of eco-labelling and product design," Toepfer continued.
"With its focus on sharing of information and closing the knowledge gap between developed and developing countries, the initiative will critically help translate life-cycle thinking into practice," he said.
The Life-Cycle Initiative was launched late last month at the start of UNEP's seventh International High Level Seminar on Cleaner Production.
The Cleaner Production concept was an outgrowth from the original Earth Summit in 1992. Its goal was to reconcile economic growth with environmental protection.
Which brings us right back to where we started 10 years ago. As much as I applaud these necessary UN initiatives, it is painfully clear nobody in the developed world is listening.
If we are to make any progress in Johannesburg, then we must begin right now.
First, take the time to find out about the various UN programs (websites are listed below). Actually read the documents - not as an intellectual exercise - but as a kind of self help program to cut the cycle of consumption.
Second, buy only what you need, not want, or think might look nice in the living room, bedroom or on the patio.
Before you buy, ask yourself, "Can I live without this?" If the answer's yes, put your wallet away.
Your bank balance will thank you.
So will the environment.
"Tomorrow's Markets Global Trends and their Implications for Business" can be found at www.uneptie.org.
For information about the Life-Cycle Initiative, go to www.uneptie.org/pc/sustain/lca/lca.htm.
To find out about CP-7, visit www.uneptie.org/pc/cp7.
Information about the International Declaration on Cleaner Products is located at www.uneptie.org/pc/cp/declaration.
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