Learning to Become a Responsible Consumer

Individuals have a crucial role to play in helping the nation achieve the United Nations’ sustainable development goal on responsible consumption and production.

School of Business & Administration (SBA) Dean Prakash V Arumugam was addressing an online talk on “Responsible Consumption: Sustainable Development Goals & You” on 14 November 2021. Over 180 people attended the virtual event organised by SBA and the Ipoh Regional Centre.

Prakash teaches the ‘Business for Sustainable Development’ course at WOU.

Prakash said for sustainable development, ‘People, Planet and Profit’ must complement each other, whereby businesses not only focus on profits but also care for the employees, society and the planet.

He revealed statistics that 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted every year, and the food sector accounts for around 22% of total greenhouse gas emissions, largely from the conversion of forests into farmland. Globally, 2 billion people are overweight or obese, and only 3% of the world’s water is drinkable, he added. There are 5 trillion single-use plastic bags thrown away each year, while 7.3kg of electronic wastes (e.g. batteries) are generated by each person, of which only 1.7 kg was recycled.

Increase of material footprint from people’s consumption and wastes.

He highlighted that responsible consumption covers environmental, economic, social and health dimensions, and depends on the sensitivity of consumers. “For instance, environmentally-conscious people will only buy products created in an environmental-friendly process and the health-conscious ones will only purchase products not detrimental to health.”

Prakash listed five ways on how we can become a responsible consumer. “First, find out and buy only green products, that is, commodities with low impact on the environment, such as low carbon footprint, organic products, and do not contribute to pollution or depletion of natural resources. You buy from businesses that respect the environment.”

Consumption of green products.

Secondly, buy products produced by companies that respect social laws and the impact of their products on societies. He explained, “Buy products made without forced child labour, in good working conditions that respect working hours and fair wages, and manufactured in compliance with ethical standards, including corruption. Buy goods made in cooperation with local communities, respecting their lifestyles and business profit.”

Consideration for the impact of products on societies.

Third is consuming ‘healthier’ products based on the nutritional composition and in accordance to hygiene standards, without toxic or harmful chemical content. Next, is consumption of products with a positive impact on the economy, such as locally-made products, and products made by a manufacturing plant that promotes work-life balance for employees and creates more jobs.

Fifth, is consuming products manufactured respecting certain ethical or moral principles, such as respect for animal welfare, fairness (e.g. pricing of products) and individual freedoms.

Consuming products that are produced in an ethical manner.

Prakash said responsible buying and consumption requires consumers to gather information – by reading the CSR activities of companies, corporate websites, and product labels – to ensure that the manufacturers have a responsible production process.

He also urged consumers to adopt a sustainable lifestyle, like harvesting rainwater for irrigation or floor washing, minimising waste generation at home, walking or bicycling instead of driving to work, reusing, buying energy-saving electronic goods, and using solar water heaters.

Ways to maintain a sustainable lifestyle.

He however cautioned against greenwashing, an over-emphasis on buying green products, as they too generate waste, stating that the reusable water bottle market is expected to reach US$10.4 billion by 2025.

He informed that WOU offers an elective course on ‘Business for Sustainable Development’ under the Commonwealth Executive MBA programme, designed for those seeking management-level positions.

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