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Consumerism And Sustainable Development Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 3428 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Sustainable development has been a goal widely pursued by all nations, globally. Citizens lifestyle has an important effect on the sustainability of a city. A sustainable lifestyle will promote the development of a society; on the contrary, an unsustainable lifestyle will hinder the development of economy and society. At the same time, globalization also has vital effect on development of a society including positive and negative. In human living environment area, the “Agenda 21” was held up and adopted, in the agenda, people tried to find the appropriate way to achieve a sustainable living lifestyle. According to Agenda 21, the reason why the global environment becomes deteriorated is mainly the unsustainable pattern of production and consumption, especially in industrialized countries, which needs serious concern, aggravating poverty and imbalances. However, with the increase of global population, how to balance the relationship between resources supply and demand to achieve the goal of sustainability is complicated. For communities and individuals, special attention should be paid on the use of natural resources which generated by unsustainable consumption and reduction of pollution. In other words, the communities and individuals should look for an appropriate living style of environment-friendly, energy conservation towards achieving sustainable goal. Although government has been put much efforts to encourage people to do some reduction of pollution, reduction of energy consumption, and waste recycling, actually there is still a long distance to reach the goal of sustainability, and there should be a series of fundamentally changes for individuals to adopt to pursue a green, sustainable society.

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Globalization means different things to different people. In general, globalization is a process that promotes world-wide exchanges of national and cultural resources. It has many aspects including economic globalization, social cultural globalization, and environmental globalization. In recent decades, the world markets have become integrated (Simone Borghesi 2001) As Lindert and Williamson 2011 pointed out, world market integration is not a new phenomenon, but it has steadily increased since the 1820s if we exclude the period between the two World Wars. (P.H.Lindert 2001)The increasing economic globalization could promote the society to be sustainable in one hand because the objective of sustainable development is the development should meet the needs of all people, however, this could not be realized in a limited environment. As we all know the carrying capacity of environment is limited, but the globalization increased the trade between nations in terms of the productions. However, on the other hand, the globalization of markets also brought about globalization of environmental problems. A long-term correlation between the globalization of international markets and environmental degradation is quite obviously (R. Looney 2003) Global climate change, ozone layer becomes thinner, reduction of biodiversity, over consumption of natural resources, desertification are all global environmental degradation brought by the economic globalization. The industrial revolution use large amount of natural resources as materials in the process, this led to the deterioration of environment and pollution. The acceleration of economic growth led to the increasing of world population that also promoted the deterioration of environment. In order to achieve much profit, companies extend the use of land, damage the habitats of living organisms, thus, decrease the biodiversity. In addition producers focus more on the economic values of products instead of their environmental values, this will lead to the imbalance of environment.

Lifestyle and sustainability

Concept of sustainable development

The concept of sustainability means that something is maintained for a period of long time. The concept of sustainable development first came out of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment in (1972) Since the publication of the UN Brundtland Commission report Our Common Future in 1987, the concept of sustainability has become associated with the integration of economic, social, and environmental development to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”(Development 1982)In this definition, we should focus on two key points, one is the “needs” and the other is meet the generation needs need the efforts of all nations. Thus, the conference required the cooperation of all nations to act to reduce the environmental pollution and protection of resources. Since then, it has become clear that what we do has an impact on the environment, from the climate change, desertification, and the destruction of forests to the disappearance of species.

By discussing the impact of human beings’ behavior on the environment, it should be in a social and economic dimension, especially the North- South dialogue and the rights of future generations. This finally led to the United Nations Convention on Education and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. In this conference, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework on Climate Change, the Rio Declaration and 38 of the 40 chapters of Agenda 21 were agreed. (Development 1992) After that the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was set up to review progress in the implementation of Agenda 21 and other UNCED documents. There are more than 1000 NGOs are accredited to participate the Commission work(Nations 1987)

Concept of lifestyle

The concept of lifestyle comes from social science and refers to a bundle of practices or ways of behaving that are meaningful for individual as well for the community. Lifestyle includes different ways of socializing with others and different types of consumption of everything, from houses to clothes, food, and leisure time activities. Lifestyle could reflect individual’s attitude and values and at the same time signals these to others through visible, or conspicuous, consumption. Sustainable lifestyle can thus be defined as bundles of practices that are tied together by attitudes related to sustainable development, or as ways of living that in practice lead to sustainable development.

In 1992 at the UN Conference in Rio de Janeiro, there was an international agreement on promoting sustainable development and thus also promoting sustainable lifestyle. Following the line of the Brundtland report, the conference reached consensus on the so-called Agenda 21 programme, which contains detailed guidelines and objectives, in a non-legally binding language, and advice on how NGOs, citizens, and other actors can be involved in the process. The slogan was act local -think global and during the 1990s Local Agenda activities were started in many countries by both governments and NGOs. In 2007-08 such initiatives received high attention, with global climate being highlight on the political agenda. Local Agenda 21 was no longer a slogan, though the concepts of sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles were then used together with climate discussions. The processes of Local Agenda 21 build on the idea that changes must come from below, from changes in the everyday life of ordinary consumers.

Current lifestyle

When talking about living lifestyle, smoking, poor nutrition, obesity, elevated stress, and suboptimal sleep will come into one’s mind, these are major contributors to the general of lifestyle-related conditions, morbidity, and premature death (Dean 2008) Preventable lifestyle-related conditions such as ischemic heart disease, lasting bronchitis, and emphysema, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and some cancers, are not only leading causes of disability and premature death in high-income countries, but increasingly in middle and low-income countries (Tal Gilbert 2004) Compared to the impact of environment brought from lifestyle, the bad lifestyle seems to have much effect on individual’s health. However, from long-term sight, bad lifestyle will bring waste of resources, pollution of environment and at last hinder the development of society.

When considering the relationship between lifestyle and consumerism, green consumerism should be advocated (Andrew Gilg 2005) Then what is green consumerism? In short, who buys and why. Current global levels of domestic energy consumption and waste production have been acknowledge as important contribution to the detriment of environment (Nations 1998) This reflects a abnormal consumerism that who needs so much energy and whether they really need. This caused the debate of how we will live in the future(De Young 1993) and response there has been a call for the development of “national policies and strategies to encourage changes in consumption patterns(UNCED 1992:64). One approach has been the promotion of environmentally-friendly lifestyles which often take the form of media or community campaigns. These campaigns encourage individuals not only to decrease the amount consumed, but also to alter the nature of goods consumed (lUCN/UNEPAVWF 1991). Many studies will discuss in later section.

Changing Lifestyles towards Sustainability

In discussion of sustainable lifestyles above, how to achieve sustainable lifestyles is important. There are two ways of changing lifestyles: bottom-up and top-down. (Hanssen 2012) The so-called bottom-up means people themselves try to find sustainable lifestyles with their knowledge and experiments, and the second way means changing the lifestyles by enforcement of government. Authorities can promote changes by political initiatives such as economic incentives or green taxes and through information and labeling of green products and campaigns focusing on changing attitudes. Furthermore, authorities can focus on establishing the physical infrastructure which supports sustainable lifestyles: public transportation, renewable energy production, recycling waste system, and so on. As the discussion above, it is the needs for individuals and government to change the lifestyle and the lifestyle needs to be sustainable. Many countries have been implemented sustainable lifestyles. The global climate change has caused the attention from all over the world, and many countries have been done for it. For example, the non-motorized in Amsterdam. Today, due to the lack of natural recourses, the transportation system becomes unsustainable. The carbon emission from the combustion of fossil fuel is the contribution to the air pollution. Therefore, it is encouraged encourage people to use more bicycle or walking instead of motors in order to not only to reduce the carbon emission but also to get a healthy lifestyle. The picture shows people in Amsterdam riding a bicycle (Figure1) Another example is a car dependent city of UK-Belfast. This is a city depend seriously on cars. The research was done to see the citizens’ response to the measures of limit the use of cars and their attitudes and awareness of climate change. Sweden is adopting the measures to reduce carbon emission from transportation to decrease the climate change. And in Malaysia, the government wants to do the similar to reduce the air pollution especially global climate change, however, the climate in Malaysia may be a challenge for implementation of this. Because the climate in Malaysia is the tropical rainforest climate, the temperature there is also higher for people to ride bicycles(M. R.Mat Yazide 2011) Therefore, this programme needs to be evaluated in Malaysia. From these examples, we can see that the sustainable lifestyle is a main stream for each country. There is a research about the carbon emission of each nation, from the chart ,we can see that those nations with high income have higher emission(Figure 2).

Figure 1. People are riding bicycles in Amsterdam source:(M. R.Mat Yazide 2011)


Figure 2. Country-wise emission per capita source:(Pal 2009)

Those countries which have high income have the high carbon emission (Figure 2) It is unequally for those low income countries who to share the deterioration environment. It is not the responsibilities of one or two countries, but the world-wise efforts to reduce the carbon emission globally.

In the recent decades, some nations have been tried to change their citizens’ lifestyle through public participation, and associated with some NGOs develop some environmental protection programmes. These activities are all design to increase the citizens’ awareness to let them know the living environment has become deteriorated. Water should be recycled, waste should be classified, energy should be produced from renewable resources, and the community building in neighborhoods to strengthen and revitalize local social life. In order to look for a new, environment-friendly lifestyle, eco-village was born (Hanssen 2012) The people deciding to build and live in these eco-villages thus establish other physical, social, and cultural structures around their everyday life as part of living a sustainable lifestyle. However, this type of lifestyle was questioned that whether this really can lead to the global sustainable lifestyle or only the pursuit of a small part of people. In addition, this raises the question of whether sustainable lifestyles are only for those who want to live an alternative life or whether they should be acted as a mainstream trend and made available for a broader audience.

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In order to find a more sustainable lifestyle and examine which type is more effective for people and society to implement, many studies were done by researchers. In general, social science is used to deal with such issues and divided into two directions, psychological and sociological approaches. As an example of the psychological approach, there was a study done to look the effects of an Internet-based tool that used a combination of tailored information, goal setting, and feedback on households’ direct and indirect energy consumption in Netherlands. An evaluation lasts 5 months showed that households gained a significant direct energy saving of 5%, whereas there was no measurable effect on indirect energy consumption. It is thus possible to document a small but significant relation between knowledge and action.

From a sociological approach, the “Action at home” of UK, which is part of the Global Action Plan that originally developed in the United States during the late 1980s, has been evaluated by Hobson to find the simple relation between knowledge and change of behavior (Hanssen 2012)The ‘Action at home’ programme lasted 6-month where households were provided with information, support, and feedback in a local setting enabling local support and networking between participants. An evaluation based on qualitative interviews suggests rethinking the ideas on information, barriers, and behavioral change. Information should be seen as a much more constructivist approach, where people use and develop arguments through conversations with others, rather than by receiving objective knowledge. The focus should be on the whole array of social structures sustaining specific behaviors, rather than on only barriers to action, and finally the understanding of behavioral change should rather focus on how debate can bring unnoticed routines that are never consciously thought of.

Though there are disagreements in the understanding of behavior and the role of information between the social and the psychological approach, it is possible to draw some general recommendations on how to best persuade people to change to a more sustainable lifestyle: Communication should be as specific and personalized as possible, and information should be as adjusted to the lifestyle of the citizens as possible, thereby making the advice meaningful and useful for the citizens’ attitudes and practices.


In order to achieve a global, green, sustainable development, the efforts needed from all over the world. For governments, based on the Agenda 21 and the characteristics of city, they should formulate the local strategy to meet the needs of development is the most important thing. Such as in Hong Kong, due to the limitation of land and high building density, government should make some strategies like economic incentive to encourage local citizens to reduce the private cars and increase use of public transportation. However, the premise of implementation of reduction of private cars should be the sound transportation system. A sound transportation will bring more convenient to citizens like time saving. For citizens in Hong Kong, time is money, to save time equals to earn money. Thus, for cities like Hong Kong with fast life, using of public transportation instead of private cars will bring amount of saving of energy and reduction of air pollution.

Sustainable development is a long-term process that getting more from less, for longer and for all. For people, they should start from changing their daily life. As the analysis above, people could do to reduce the stress of environment from these following aspects:

Resources conservation

Resources conservation including reduction of using natural resources to make sure the limited resources could use longer for more people. Such as water conservation in daily life. Water is the source of life. People could not live on earth without water. Another important resource is biodiversity. Biodiversity conservation should be paid much attention because the whole earth includes people, animals, atmosphere, land and water stays in a stable system. Lacking of one of these factors, the system will damage, and we human beings could gain the benefits from the biodiversity such as food, fibers and even medicine. These are the necessities for human being’s life. Rich biodiversity will offer the ongoing resources for future generations to reach the sustainable goal.

Resources recycling

The resource recycling is mainly about the waste classification. There will be amount of domestic waste production in our daily life. The compound of the domestic waste is so complex and difficult to deal with. And the process of dealing with the waste will bring the pollution of environment such as release the greenhouse gas, sewage discharge into river and marine. Waste classification could reduce the difficulties in the process of dealing and increase the effectiveness. The most common waste in our life is plastic bags and bottles. And the material of the plastic bags and bottles is too difficult to deal with, so it is important to distinguish it from other types of waste and deal with centralized.

Resources reuse

Resource reuse means using again especially in a different way. This could help increase the effectiveness a resource. For example, the can could use to keep the screws that we do not need to buy another container. This will help saving not only money but also resources. In our life, especially for children, because of their growth, their clothes will become too small to wear. At this time, some parents will consider throwing them out then buy new ones. This is an unsustainable behavior. On the contrary, many parents will consider passing the cloth to other children who can wear them. Giving things to those people who need them is better treated as litter. This behavior reduces the production of waste.

The three aspects above are what we can do now in our daily life to help construct a sustainable society. In the process of changing lifestyle, however, citizens’ attitudes play a vital role. This related to their awareness to the environmental and social risks. It is need to increase citizens’ awareness through formal and informal education. However, sustainability is a contested concept, and developments in the structures and practices of everyday life continue to change and thus provide new challenges for what a sustainable lifestyle is or should be. In the future, there is also a need to continue experimenting, debating, and developing new approaches to sustainable lifestyles


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