Source: New Straits Times

Practising Sustainable Consumption

By Wan Portia Hamzah 

OUR PRECIOUS WATER: Change and governance are vital prerequisites if we want to preserve the vital resource

DO we Malaysians practise sustainable consumption? The answer is "No" if we just look, for example, at our water consumption.

Depending on the sources taken, a Malaysian uses an average of 203 to 280 litres per day. This is reportedly high compared with Indonesia at 150, Philippines at 175 and Singapore at 155 litres per person per day.

Water tariffs are relatively low and for households in Selangor 20 cubic metres of water are made available free every month.

Rainfall in Malaysia is considered high at an average of no less than 4,000 plus mm a year, but parts of Malaysia are experiencing drought now and there is a need to manage the precious resource.

The National Water Services Commission (SPAN) has taken the initiative to ensure that water supply services become more efficient and sustainable, but consumers must learn to appreciate the value of water and practise sustainable consumption.

Is the concept of sustainable consumption understood? If we trace back to the Rio Summit in 1992, the issue of "sustainable consumption and production" (or SCP) was in fact raised.

Then in the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg in 2002, there was a call "to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production".

The Sustainable Consumption Research Exchange Network (SCORE) was subsequently established to address the issue of SCP in the European Union (EU) and beyond.

But according to SCORE, "consumption" has to be first understood and that a "systemic approach" must be taken.

This implies that experts who understand business development, solution design, consumer behaviour and effectiveness of policy instruments must collaborate and cooperate in shaping the concept.

This should be further linked with experiences of industry actors, consumer groups and eco-labelling organisations to understand the whole value chain in the consumption domains (be it energy, food, etc).

In promoting sustainable development, the concept of SCP has been studied and witnessed as are SCP initiatives such as targets for renewable energies and energy efficiency, as well as plans for Green Public Procurement undertaken at EU levels.

SCP initiatives have also been undertaken by many other countries although these initiatives may not be labelled as "SCP" or addressing the need for "SCP".

The initiatives include both top-down and bottom-up approaches, but the key word here is "change".

Change, in general, involves rules, financial relations, services, technologies, consumer practices, values, interests or expectations, among others.

What is important, therefore, is how policy can effectively support the change to enable sustainable consumption and production practices and hence stimulate sustainable markets, sustainable innovation systems or sustainable behaviour of businesses and consumers.

An important key word here is "governance".

Businesses are in the position to respond to sustainability challenges such as efficiency and making production and products more resource efficient or adopt a new business model to be competitive.

Consumers, on the other hand, can exercise sustainable choice provided there is "sensitisation" as consumer behaviour can only change if there is the ability, opportunity and the motivation.

There are, of course, challenges since the SCP concept aims to do "more and better with less" as well as to address the economy, environment and social dimensions in a holistic manner.

However, it must be noted that SCP is cross cutting, involving for example various government entities in terms of agenda-setting and implementation.

And while the prime objective is to ensure that basic needs are met, there is a need to build from there and provide a better quality of life.

There is an ongoing study that will provide Malaysia with a clearer picture to address the SCP concept and we, the consumers, must be ready to accommodate the changes for a sustainable future and to be competitive.

Read more: Practising sustainable consumption - Columnist - New Straits Times