5 September 2011
Press Release
NGO/732
PI/2001

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sustainable Production, Consumption Practices Key to Combating Environmental

 

Degradation, Inequality, Say Round Table Participants

 


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)


BONN, 3 September — Stressing that consumption habits had to change if people really wanted to address the growing environmental crisis, civil society representatives called on all sectors of society to use more responsible and sustainable consumption and production practices, as the sixty-fourth annual Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization (DPI/NGO) Conference continued in Bonn, Germany, this afternoon.


Speaking before the start of the first round table, Kandeh Yumkella, Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said that about 65 to 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions resulted from energy-related activities such as power generation, the heating and cooling of buildings and industrial production.  One could not talk about sustainable development without talking about an energy revolution, he stressed.  He recalled that a famous energy economist had once said that managing climate change and overcoming poverty were the two biggest issues of modern times.  If society was unsuccessful in addressing one, it would also fail in the other, he said, insisting that the two could not be separated. 


Mr. Yumkella said energy was a critical issue, noting that throughout the world 2 to 3 billion people relied on biomass for their primary energy source.  Every year about 1.5 to 2 million people lost their lives due to indoor air pollution from use of materials such as firewood and charcoal, most of them women and children.  The lack of energy was indeed a huge social problem, he said, emphasizing that climate change and the Millennium Development Goals could not be tackled without an energy revolution.


Describing energy access as the missing link of development, he said it was clear that the lack of energy was connected to poverty and inequality.  In some countries it was more profitable to make charcoal than to farm, and that was depleting forests.  For those in the developed world, communities had to use and generate energy differently and that could reduce global emissions by 40 per cent, he said.  Consumers needed to make renewable energy sources 30 per cent of their energy usage.  Next year, 2012, had been declared the “Year of Sustainable Energy” and there was a need to look at the social dimensions of the lack of access to energy, including the implications for women.


He said there must also be a global discussion about public/private partnerships because it was not enough for people to give up their cars.  It was not about bashing industry, but rather about holding the sector accountable and pushing it to make necessary technological advances.  There must be a focus on green industry, which included resource and energy efficiency, water optimization, sustainable jobs and youth employment, which would allow people to live and work in dignity.


Following Mr. Yumkella’s remarks, delegates took part in the first round table of the Conference, entitled “Shaping Sustainable Lifestyles and Livelihoods:  Sustainable Consumption and Production Aspects of a Globalizing World”.


Sue Riddlestone, Executive Director of the BioRegional Development Group, served as Moderator, and noted that different countries were consuming at different rates.  Everyone must use their fair share of resources rather than having citizens of some countries consuming much more than others.


Jiangwen Long, Vice-President of the China Association of Women Entrepreneurs, said non-governmental organizations had an important role to play in the area of environmental protection, as one could see the effects of deforestation and other environmental degradation that adversely impacted communities.  In China, more and more NGOs were dedicated to promoting green lifestyles and construction.  They were committed to raising public awareness about water and energy conservation, and to planting trees to combat deforestation.


She went on to say that 40 years ago she did not care about the price of oil on the New York Stock Exchange because, like most Chinese people, she used a bicycle.  Now that had changed as more and more people owned cars.  The Government had enacted laws to reduce traffic and air pollution, in addition to developing a five-year economic and social plan with the objective of building a resource-saving and environmentally-friendly society.  In addition to civil society and the Government, entrepreneurs and private business also had an essential role to play in the survival of a sustainable environment, she said.  Through their joint efforts they could leave a beautiful and harmonious world to future generations.


Daniela Bosioc, of the European Volunteer Centre, said 2012 had been proclaimed the European Year of Volunteering.  It was important for volunteers and volunteer organizations in Europe to have a voice because about 100 million European Union citizens said they engaged in some form of volunteerism.  If all those people formed their own country, which they liked to call “Volunteerland”, it would be the largest in the European Union, she said.


Volunteerism was linked to inclusive growth, she said.  For example, employment was an issue in Europe and volunteerism played an important role in tackling it and other issues.  Volunteering helped increase employability and provide training that formal education did not, which in turn helped people access the labour market.  Volunteering also had personal benefits and helped people grow, she said, adding that it had had a great impact in her own life, teaching her to look at the “big picture”, and grow as a person.  That type of personal change could be a catalyst for larger change in society.


Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Founder and Executive Director of Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education), said that when it came to sustainable production and consumption, indigenous peoples could rightly say they were practitioners of conservation.  For example, her indigenous community in the Philippines had a number of customary laws that required recycling rather than wasting materials.  The community used the resources available to them in a sustainable manner.


She said industrialized countries engaged in practices that exacerbated environmental degradation and led to inequality, while indigenous communities were often labelled as primitive and backward because they chose not to engage in practices that contributed to environmental deterioration.  Some countries, such as Denmark, were undertaking measures to reverse those trends, but such examples were few.  New technologies were often beyond the reach of poor countries and intellectual property laws often curtailed the their widespread use, she said, calling for an economic growth model that encouraged the sharing of such technology and did not contribute to growing inequality.


Daniel Bena, Senior Director of Sustainable Development for PepsiCo, said he had asked himself what had changed since Rio 20 years ago and had found that there had been some positive changes in the last two decades.  A survey of people in 32 countries had got the company thinking about how it could make a difference.  One way was by giving money to fund projects directly, but PepsiCo could also help with capacity-building, communication, and volunteerism.  It could also use its global reach and knowledge of global logistics and supply chains to help the World Food Programme (WFP) keep supplies fresh without losing inventory to spoilage.


He went on to describe a project in the United States which used money that would have gone to advertising to fund small grants for various projects and NGOs.  As a result of those grants, more than 2.5 million lives had been touched, 29 communities had been enhanced and 199 organizations had been strengthened.  More than 2 million people had been made aware of the work being done by NGOs to address pressing issues.  The platform of PepsiCo allowed NGOs to reach a much larger audience and attract new donors and volunteers.  He agreed with Ms. Tauli-Corpuz that the main drivers of change were local people using their native wisdom in concert with the private sector and Governments.


Nis Christensen of Denmark, speaking as a respondent, said he had learned from the speakers today of the need to work better in the “triangle of change”.  The role of Governments was not as important as it had been 20 years ago.  Denmark, for example, had formalized and institutionalized how to involve NGOs and civil society in the change process.


Marian Harkin of Ireland, speaking as a respondent, said the only way to deal with sustainability was to address all the issues raised today.  Volunteers must be centre stage because they were a hugely powerful source.  Oftentimes Governments thanked volunteers and then sidelined them as they moved on to the real business of the economy, never realizing their importance to the world’s business.  Volunteers were central to how societies operated and should be included in all areas of life.  Those living in the developed world could benefit from the knowledge of volunteers working on the ground.  They often thought that technology would save them, but they needed to ask whether new technologies had sustainability at their core.  Civil society and NGO activists must also re-evaluate how they measured progress, she said, noting that gross domestic product measured wealth, but not access to opportunities, resource depletion or inequality.  They must also place an economic value on volunteering, because only then would Governments take it seriously.


During the ensuing question-and-answer period, one participant noted that there were many ways in which corporations could change the production and consumption process, including by redesigning products and undertaking sustainable production practices that would make a big difference for their consumers and the larger community.  Another speaker asked how to ensure greater private-sector involvement, while others enquired as to how to improve communication and awareness-raising campaigns to advance their goals.


Another audience member asked what PepsiCo was doing specifically to address youth unemployment, while yet another asked the panellists what could be done to change attitudes in order to move society towards a situation in which the economy was measured in terms of environmental health and human welfare.


Mr. Bena, responding to some of the questions, said there was more information available on PepsiCo’s website regarding sustainable production practices.  One of the company’s goals was to transform people at the bottom of the pyramid from recipients of philanthropy into active consumers.  But in order for people to become consumers, they must have the basic elements that supported sustainable communities, such as access to clean water, health care and jobs.  Companies that did not recognize that would not be successful in 20 years.


One of the ways in which PepsiCo was trying to incorporate new business models was through built-in sustainable practices from the inception of product design to the actual production phase.  The company was designing products to address nutritional needs in some countries, such as biscuits with higher levels of iron to address iron shortages in India.


Ms. Harkin said some of the core problems stemmed perhaps from a dearth of monetary and economic governance.  The monetary, economic and financial systems were all connected, and addressing inequalities would go a long way towards addressing other issues.


Mr. Christensen said that what Governments could do to encourage corporations to adopt new business models was to create the right conditions for companies to adopt more sustainable practices.


Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said she could not understand why Governments found it so hard to tax multi-millionaires or regulate businesses, even after wealthy individuals like Warren Buffet and George Soros had called on them to do so.  In terms of getting to a point where it was easy to change people’s perceptions of what mattered in society, she said there were already frameworks and outlines in place for achieving such change.


Ms. Bosioc, summing up, called upon businesses to take volunteering seriously because it was not just about good deeds or team-building.  They could make an invaluable contribution.


Mr. Bena strongly encouraged those drafting the Conference declaration to look at this year’s Harvard Business Review, which discussed creating shared value.


Ms. Long said it was important to remember that change began at the local level.


Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said the earth could take care of itself and it was actually humans beings who needed help.  For their own self-preservation they must be better stewards of the environment.


Mr. Christensen said that while there was a need for definitive change, NGO activists must work within the system and break down the barriers in the triangle of change between Governments, business and people.


Ms. Harkin said that changing the definition of what was important in society would be a huge paradigm shift.


Ms. Riddlestone said people could live within their means, using their fair share of resources, and they could all work together to achieve that goal.


The DPI/NGO Conference will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, 4 September, for a round table entitled, “Green Economy and Poverty Eradication:  Climate Justice as a Bridge to a New Global Economic Paradigm”.


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For information media • not an official record