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  The Green Consumer  Understanding
the Green Consumer.

Notes from a presentation by Julia Hailes,
co-author of "The Green Consumer Guide"

Green consumerism creates a balance between the expectations of consumer behaviour and businesses' profit motives. Points to be noted:
  • Markets don't wait for slow movers. Businesses that innovate and respond quickly to consumer demands survive best.
  • Everyone has a part to play, at various levels of administration, manufacture and use.
  • A consumer has to realize that he/she not just buys 'a' product, but everything that went into its production, and everything that will happen in the future as a result of that product.
  • All products have an environmental impact, however small. The idea is to reduce it to the minimum.

" ... even green products have an environmental impact" "A 'cradle-to-grave' approach should be used to understand green products" "The greenest option: don't buy!"

Key impacts of green products:

  • Consumers have been asking for green products, ie there has been a clear raise in demand for such products.
  • Businesses have looked into the green process - generating corporate environmental profiles, monitoring and evaluating green performance, and improving corporate image as a result.
  • Green products have also increased competition among businesses to generate more environmentally friendly products.
  • Ecolabelling networks that monitor and evaluate green products have been developed in many countries. These networks have done life cycle analyses to understand the impact of products.
  • Governments have also taken several measures that have supported and facilitated such moves by businesses.

"Life Choices: Green consumerism is not just what we buy, but also how we live" "The triple bottom line: economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially responsible" "Consumer is a change agent and is proactive"

Key issues for the future include:

  • Health: A sentary lifestyle combined with health impacts of environmental pollution and emissions, use and abuse of pesticides, anti-biotics etc.
  • Population and consumption: Population increases, aging populations, consumption patterns - living beyond means, etc.
  • Globalization: Transboundary effect and free trade have both advantages (efficiency, profits, opportunities, demand) and disadvantages (unemployment, footloose companies, weaker controls, unfair trade, small scale loses out) etc.
  • Energy: Every source of energy has an environmental impact. Energy efficiency is not just technology, but also cutting back. There are enough cars to create a six-lane traffic jam to the moon.
  • Water: Water use is increasing at twice the rate of population increase. Much can be done at the individual level.
  • Chemicals: Use of pesticides and other hazardous chemicals. PCB?DDT has been found in mother's milk too! Ozone depleting chemicals, hormone-disrupting chemicals have long term effects on human health and well-being.
  • Genetic engineering: Includes many ethical and moral issues, including misinformation. Not that genetic engineering is bad - but the consumer should be given the choice.
  • Natural World: Considerable pressures put on the natural world due to population increases and rise in consumption. 40% of all plant growth consumed by humans! Somewhere, something should stop.
  • Ethics: The treatment of other peoples. Issues of gender, children, animal welfare. Ethics of cloning, fertility et al.
  • Fair Trade: Nee to look into working conditions (child labour, low wages, long hours, lack of safety, mass production v/s craft industries.
  • Neighbourhoods: Development of a sense of community. Increase in financial wealth, but also of quality of life. Measure "gross national happiness"!!
  • Childhood: Loss of 'childhood' due to societal pressures and expectations, knowledge and skills, etc.
"Green consumerism involves actions from the government sector, the private sector and the civil society" "If everyone in the world lived a lifestyle like Japan, then we would need three planets" "20% of the population use 80% of the resources"

The Year 2000 - Creating a future we want:

  • make intelligent life choices
  • use people power for positive change
  • act as well as think
  • set clear priorities
  • fight for the right to know
  • understand the bigger picture
  • respect the living world
  • expect the unexpected
  • happiness cannot be bought
  • practice give-and-take

Presentation notes based on a talk given by Julia Hailes , co-author of the 1988 book "Green Consumer Guide", at the International Symposium on Consumption and the Environment on 26 February, 1998 in Tokyo, Japan. [Note: emphasis and images created by Hari Srinivas]
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