Ethical Production and Consumption in the next global development agenda

Does Nature Care? Human-centered sustainable development agenda

In global development agenda for the past 15 years, human needs have preceded over the environmental agenda. Early reflections on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) highlighted the poor integration of environmental sustainability and poverty reduction. Resources and efforts towards achieving poverty reduction objectives often failed to include an environmental dimension. The predominant development models of the 20th Century[1] assumes the separation between humans and nature. Similarly, environmental conservation operated in a silo, not relating to the root causes of poverty.[2]

Overall, the MDGs have been remarkably successful in focusing attention and mobilizing resources to address the major gaps in human development.[3] Some of humanity’s most basic needs have been met; especially in countries in South and South-East Asia, Latin America and to some degree Africa. Despite some regions like South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa still lagging behind on health, education, water and sanitation goals, there is global consensus that the MDGs were a timely intervention and has helped countries in setting their own –at times higher- benchmarks for human progress. Focusing the international community around one development agenda is among the MDGs’ greatest achievements. However, challenges remain to secure a future that people would wish for themselves and generations to come. A future that ensures a safe, healthy environment and well-functioning ecological systems that secures access to natural resources and their services. The challenge, however, is to retain the current pace of human development while securing the health of the environment.

Early discussions on the post-MDG development architecture possible draw on the recommendations made by the Rio+20 Summit. In 2012, the Summit proposed a series of sustainability centered targets to ensure that humans do not overrun the earth that supports them. Future goals must reach beyond traditional development thinking to become sustainable one-world goals that apply to poor and rich countries alike. Surveys show that even for the poorest, meeting basic needs is not enough. Beyond basic needs, people strive for security (of income, of personal safety and from shocks such as disasters, price hikes) and health. These expectations are closely interlinked to the ecological systems and their performance. For example, healthy life is sustained by natural ecosystems; many rural livelihoods are sustained by natural resources such as water, soil and forests.
It was as far back as 1987, when sustainable development was defined as “development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. This definition identifies one good: meeting human needs. The cause for concern, according to this definition is that present development pathways are not meeting the needs of all of the people; then, that current consumption patterns, by damaging the environment and overexploiting resources, are compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Human needs are at the core of the argument for sustainable development. Conserving natural resources, securing and protecting the environment are necessary to ensure current and future human needs. There is little argument or space in the mainstream sustainable development agenda for valuing nature and natural assets for their own sake; or espouses the right of the natural world to co-exist alongside humans. In doing so, it is accepting an instrumental view of nature as a resource for human development.[4] The current sustainable development framework therefore, is arguably “anthropocentric”, valuing nature by its usefulness to humanity, instead of being “eco-centric” in valuing nature as an end in itself. It is often argued that attributing an inherent or existential value for nature is also ‘anthropocentric’ as nature itself (apparently) does not care what happens to it.[5]

Ecological health and human needs: contradictory or complementary?

Between these black and white positions (instrumental vs eco-centric), there are many shades of grey. But generally humans define the usefulness of nature in the dimensions of their interaction with it and a community’s physical, economic, religious and social development phase. An aboriginal tribesman will attribute a different value to nature than an Indian farmer; an ascetic or monk would ascribe a value totally disparate to an investment banker. Environmental economists interpret the “existence value” of natural entities such as species and habitats as a contribution to human welfare. Even those with deep ecological belief of nature’s right to exist as it is; place a certain moral judgement on the case; basing it on their own needs and values.

If sustainable development is primarily about meeting human needs, then the world needs a yardstick for human well-being, beyond which consumption is extraneous and superfluous and could well be termed ‘unethical’ in the sense that it exceeds the capacity of the earth to provide continuous sustenance. However, establishing a reasonable limit upon human needs is daunting and may well be seen as impinging upon the human rights and freedoms.[6] The exclusion of nature is also due to typical economic assumptions about externalities of development focused solely on human needs. i.e. health issues as a negative externality is completed unaccounted for in the popular model for progress.

Human needs defined by the MDGs are straight forward. They pertain to basic physical needs –hunger, thirst, health, shelter- and social aspirations –education, livelihood, services, clean environment. The MDG’s provided a framework or a core of what could be a ‘good life’ for humans. However, there is an increasing body of evidence of the inadequacy of such a limited framework to define human ‘needs’. 

A World Bank survey concluded that even the poor have expectations beyond basics- such as better jobs, better connections to the rest of the world, reduced threats of violence and ending humiliation and disrespect.[7] Looking at the developed west; and the burgeoning middle classes of India, China, West and Central Asia it appears that the current economic development model simply creates more ‘needs’ and many of them, in moving beyond core, life preserving needs, are about social status and luxurious consumption.

Today’s consumer society, underpinned by western ideology of personal freedom and gain, is fundamentally selfish in its pursuit of a ‘better life’ and therefore has alienated itself even more from nature and ecology. There is blind faith in the economic forces and technology as a saviour of the ills of development. Michaelis (2000) summarised the forces that drive present-day consumers as:

• Human well-being is largely equated with increasing material consumption. More consumption is generally taken to be a good in itself, and societies are committed to continually increasing consumption levels at a personal and at an aggregate level.
• Material consumption is a major route to belonging to a community and achieving status within that community.
• The culture is essentially competitive rather than co-operative – members of the community strive to be materially better off than others.
• The culture emphasises individual rights (and just deserts) more than responsibilities to others. Individual freedom to own property and to consume is taken to be a fundamental right of all human beings: the only legitimate argument for limiting anyone’s consumption is that it causes direct harm to somebody else.
• The natural world is viewed as a source of commodities which provide the basis for consumption, and is not valued in itself. Therefore, leaving the present development model at clear cross roads with ecological health.

It appears that economic growth and development is analogous with increased material consumption of goods and services that deplete natural resources and produce wastes that harm ecological functions. Even meeting basic human needs cause stress upon the natural environment. But large scale use of energy, plastics, agriculture, fishery, manufacture of luxury items, minerals, metals and non-renewable fuel sources cause irreparable and irreversible damage to natural systems. Some of these impacts are now visible as age-old weather patterns are altered by global warming and species disappear at faster rate than ever. In the past 15 years of implementing the MDGs, and 22 years after the sustainable development agenda was born in Rio, countries both rich and poor struggle to balance human needs against ecological health. Results are not convincing. Economic progress is yet primary benchmark of development. Poverty alleviation is the most pressing development concern. Countries that reach middle-income status and have reasonable quality of life, simply strive for more of the same, emulating the western model for consumption. In all countries, the gap between the rich and the poor widen as those left behind in the highway of economic progress hobble by in poverty and depravity. Industrialisation and urbanisation have created a series of unforeseen ills- for people and for nature. The chasm between man and nature is widening; and even in eastern cultures that earlier valued nature for itself, the utilitarian view of nature supersedes as materialism gains ground.

Ethical roots of sustainable production and consumption

On balance, a society that defines social status and human flourishing in terms of materialconsumption is likely to have moredissatisfied members. Many 20th century thinkers[8] have challenged the economic model of unfettered consumption. Following Hirsch (1977), many writers have argued that there is a need to find a way of diminishing the power of “positional goods” – that is, goods that are used to demonstrate social standing and luxury lifestyles. The good life, they argue, is not constructed on accumulated material wealth and luxurious consumption. Instead, a good life is built on relationships, virtue, morality and spirituality, happiness and human capability to achieve these things.

Amartya Sen’s[9] concept of “capabilities” is linked to Aristotle’s idea of the good life. The good life was one of happiness based on rational capacity and moral virtue, but also requiring material means and relationships with family and friends. The disposition to choose between excess and deficiency in worldly pleasures is an integral element, or capacity. Sen argues that rather than being concerned about equality of wealth or access to resources, we should be concerned about equality of capabilities (to carry out valuable acts or to reach valuable states of being). Mulgan (1998) identifies five areas in which we need to flourish to live a good life, regardless of the society we live in. These are: belonging to a family; belonging to a community; having access to material goods for sustenance, adornment and play; living in a healthy environment; and having a spiritual dimension to life.

The western ideal of personal autonomy and individual freedom as an important prerequisite for the good life is challenged by eastern viewpoints that value family and community. The principle of common good is deeply entrenched in rural agrarian societies, and was dominant even in pre-industrialised Europe. Nature, in that sense, is a common good. It was worthy of protection, restoration and even worship in many ancient cultures. However, as development drives individual success and per capita wealth, the ideology of common good is subsumed by individual progress.

Humans are a part of the environment and the cycle of nature, in the most fundamental way, and harming nature in turn harms the person. This belief is entrenched in eastern religions such as Budhism, Jainism and Hinduism. Many eastern religions –primarily Buddhism and Hinduism- ascribe to nature a spiritual value that transcends human needs. Human life, wealth and needs are considered impermanent and intransigent in the greater karmic cycle, therefore unimportant save for meeting the requirements for mindful existence in the present.Karmic religions that underpin the impermanent nature of human life, against an endless horizon of existence, appreciate the intrinsic connection of humans to nature.

Buddhist economics is built upon the theory of creating the least harm on the quest for better living- on a philosophical understanding that obtaining maximum well-being from minimum consumption is more important than obtaining maximum well-being from maximum consumption.The man leading a simple life with few wants easily satisfied is upheld and appreciated as an exemplary character. Miserliness and wastefulness are equally deplored in Buddhism as two degenerate extremes.

Nature –trees, lakes, mountains and rivers- are ascribed divine presence in Hinduism and typically, Hindu social thought has always included an ecological dimension. Followers of this ancient religion imbue in ecological conservation even without expressly meaning to do so- reluctance to harm animals, large trees, destroy areas of natural beauty, vegetarianism and Ayurveda are just some of the aspects of the religion’s closeness to nature. As early as 500 BC, the Indian Upanishads proposed new ideals of austerity and nonattachment, which remain central values in Jainism and were strongly espoused by Mahatma Gandhi. Although non-attachment is usually portrayed as an Eastern value, it is also important in Greek philosophy and in Christianity. Hindu, Greek and Christian ascetics adopted extremes of self-denial and self-castigation.

Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian revivalist, in his trademark homespun loincloth, espoused an economic theory of simple living and self-sufficiency in a post-independence agrarian India. He envisioned a satisfied community growing their food, weaving cloth and meeting the material needs of its citizenry through local industry and agriculture. This vision is a far cry from the rapidly developing, energy guzzling, industrial and consumerist India of today.

In 1972 by Bhutan's fourth Dragon King, JigmeSingyeWangchuck, who opened Bhutan to the age of modernization, coined the term "gross national happiness" to signal his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. The king was far before his time in determining human development beyond established values. The measure for gross national happiness suggests that material and spiritual development should occur side by side, complementing and reinforcing each other. The four original pillars of this metric were sustainable development, cultural values, natural environment and good governance. The Centre for Bhutan Studies further defined these four pillars with greater specificity into eight general contributors to happiness—physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality.

There has long been a recognition that wealth does not in itself lead to happiness. There is evidence that even communities with fewer assets and little material wealth can be contented and happy, as long as their natural resource base is intact and duly providing the basics for life.[10]

Ethical consumption: A metric for sustainable development

Humans have always been consumers. However in ancient times, human needs were rarely at odds with the natural world that supplied these needs. Humans were part of the web of life and fully integrated in to the ecology. Agriculture, fishery and husbandry in the pre-industrialised world did not bend the backbone of nature. The processes of industrialisation, urbanisation and rapid growth fuelled by extractive use of natural resources has distanced man from nature. In burgeoning cities of the world, humans live in man-made environments artificially powered and lit. The bonds to nature are tenuous and fragile. Technological progress has ensured artificial climate control, manufactured food, easier travel across continents and new energy sources. There is strong belief in the capitalist economic model and trust that technology can overcome all negative impacts on nature and environment.

Human experience with technological progress suggests that the future will bring new ways of making agriculture and industry less wasteful of land and resources, and less polluting. While it is true that technological progress has cleaned up some industrial ills, human progress still rely on growing extraction of fuel, water and materials from the environment. Mainstream economic wisdom dictate that there are systemic solutions to resource scarcity- prices will rise, bringing demand under control and encouraging innovation. However, there is not some worry that the economic model does not consider finite resources and irreversible damage to ecological processes; nor can it take account of potential catastrophes brought on by long term environmental changes that has never been experienced before and do not fully understand.[11]

Current patterns of consumption are clearly at odds with sustainable development objectives. Sustainable development, even when interpreted through the lens of human needs, insists that resources are intact for future generations. This aspect is clearly not factored in to the economic development model of today. Thomas Malthus in 1798 believed that the human population had already expanded to the maximum level that the land could accommodate. This view has so far not been vindicated, as agricultural productivity has outpaced population growth over the last two centuries. Technological and industrial innovation will continue to enable us to get more from less. However this productivity may not be able to keep pace with human needs as they rapidly outgrow the earth’s capacity to replenish its resource base. Human population, over 7 billion today, is expected to rise to around 10 billion in 2050. Much of this growth will be in the under-developed and middle-income nations placing immense pressure on the earth’s ability to support economic transition and a ‘good life’ to the many billions demanding equal wealth and growth. While in the mid-20th century, population control was actually considered a positive development indicator, currently many countries are adopting a more relaxed attitude towards curtailing human numbers. Some countries even incentivise population growth, arguing for added work force and with the intention of racial balance.

There is now a growing body of evidence that unfettered growth cannot be supported by technology and human ingenuity alone. The increasing threats to development from climate change are already evident in resource scarcity, migration, disruption of livelihoods and production. The growing challenge of food and water insecurity across the world threatens global development efforts. There is clear linkage between human health and good environmental conditions. In short, human wellbeing and the good life are more dependent on nature, and the fine balance of ecology than the current economic model would allow us to believe.

The thematic consultation on Environmental Sustainability in the Post-2015 Agenda,[12] recognized three interlinked and urgent problems that threaten sustainable development. They are population growth, unsustainable production and consumption, and climate change. It was recognized that unsustainable consumption patterns and lifestyles of those who benefit from today’s development model are directly linked to poverty generation, the growth of inequality and threats to ecosystem services. There were calls for environmental justice due to unequal or unfair exploitation and the commercialization of local natural resources related to corrupt power structures and private control over natural resources.

There is urgent need for action on sustainable food production and consumption. The world has the technology, the knowledge, innovation and resources to support ecologically sustainable lifestyles. But the current practice of sustainable production and consumption is nascent, confined and does not have a strong spiritual and moral basis. Overall it does not make a significant dent in material consumption of the emerging wealthy. The current consumerist culture, and market economy leads us to believe that excessive consumption is the biggest marker of success, and further, is necessary to keep the economic machinery well oiled. Modern conceptions of individual liberty and rights, property and just deserts, make it hard to imagine our society adopting controls on the type or volume of material consumption. There also seems little immediate prospect for a reversal of the trend towards greater disparity in consumption levels. Yet, economic growth has left large segments of the already wealthy dissatisfied. Many continue with current lifestyles, even with the full knowledge that consuming more does not make them happier, for lack of informed choice. Material consumption has become an avoidable and integral part of meeting social needs in our society.

Ethical consumption is a choice of buying only those products known to be produced under reasonable standards of environmental and social safeguards. It also entails boycotting ‘unethical’ products –animal furs, genetically modified food, clothes and shoes manufactured in sweat shops- or curtailing ‘unnecessary’ consumption. Consumers willing to adopt alternative consumption behaviour do so with a widevariety of motivations. They may justify their choices with arguments about valuing natureand safeguarding future generations, but often they are also concerned with their own health, saving money, or avoiding waste.

Critics argue that modern day ethical consumers are a niche, elitist market, and have limited ability to affect structural change to the current economic model. There is certain level of hedonism and social status ingrained in to the practice of ethical consumption. Some argue that information is limited regarding the outcomes of a given purchase, preventing consumers from making informed ethical choices. Ethical consumers are often less concerned with price but look for reassurance that the goods have the appropriate ethical attribute. Such consumption activities performed in public, often present opportunities for social differentiation and distinction. The choice of ethical brands can reflect life style and personal identity as much as prestige alternatives. Ethical choices maybe seen as a ‘positional good’ undermining its very ideological basis as an alternate to materialism. Some thinkers have dismissed ethical or green consumerism as "a catastrophic mistake" on the grounds that "it strengthens extrinsic values" (those that "concern status and self-advancement") thereby undermining the very basis of the ethical consumption.

Ethical production in modern day corporates can also be viewed though a critical lens. For companies, ethical production and sustainable practices are either marketing advantages or corporate social responsibility. Today there are ratings for ethical produced consumables giving information to consumers and to other business. Financial news services like Bloomberg and Reuters even provide "environmental, social and governance" ratings direct to the financial data screens of hundreds of thousands of stock market traders. This encourages corporates to introduce an ethical ‘gloss’ over consumables, all the time striving to enlarge market share and increase consumption. Some actually argue that ethical shifts in consumption, say from petrol cars to hybrids or cars to bicycles- have actually expanded markets and created new high-end consumables targeted for an ‘ethical lifestyle’.

Containing consumption is yet not the mainstay of modern day ethical consumerist markets. However, religious and philosophical guidance in the earlier section point to a need to minimise our wants and needs, reshaping them with new knowledge and understanding of the ‘good life’. Using Sen’s argument for capacity to rationalise and make informed choices, humans should be able to see the impact of their individual actions on the social and ecological fabric. However there is neither economic motivation nor pressure to curtail consumption, in fact there is fear that such a shift in popular behaviour will undermine growth and economic transition. The existing typology of consumption firmly places the consumer within the realm of consumption rather than non-consumption. Etzioni (1998) uses voluntary simplicity as a generic term for foregoing maximum consumption and possibly income. Such downshifting can effectively be a self-centered response to the pressures of a modern lifestyle; people seeking more quality time and not necessarily having concern for other moral issues of consumption. In contrast, Shaw and Newholm (2002) distinguish ethical simplifiers as actively concerned about environmental, social and animal welfare issues. In practice ethical simplification may be difficult to implement requiring a moral commitment which represents commercialized culture as morally bad, damaging both the environment and those in developing countries working to support the Western lifestyle.[13]

Despite these drawbacks, discussions on the post-2015 development architecture pegs great importance on modifying human consumption behaviour. Civil society forums and submissions insist on fundamental changes to the economic model and the prioritization of ethical and sustainable consumption patterns. Evidence to sustainable development models –that address poverty while ensuring integrity of natural resources- have been presented from world over. Approaches range from traditional, low-consumption, holistic lifestyles; to incorporating economic costs of environmental damage in to national accounting systems; to private sector engagement in sustainable production practices to strengthening agrarian livelihoods against climate and economic shocks. In 2008 the OECD produced lessons from its member countries on how sustainable and ethical consumption is managed by market forces and government controls to provide a strong incentive to transform needs and lifestyles.[14] The UN’s Marrakech Process on Sustainable Consumption and Production advocates the transition to more sustainable patterns of consumption and production. In 2002 governments at the Johannesburg Summit called for the development of a 10-year framework of programmes in support of regional and national initiatives to accelerate the shift to sustainable consumption and production to contain social and economic development within the carrying capacity of ecosystems.

Beyond poverty reduction: sustainability in the post 2015 agenda

The world has changed since the MDGs were formulated. The 5th Assessment Report (2014) of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) confirms the concerns of the Brundtland Commission of 1987 and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment by UNEP in 2000. The earth’s resources are being over-run by human development. Irreversible change to the environment and the earth climate has already occurred.

There is no doubt that human needs will continue to dominate the next global development agenda. There is also ample evidence that the current development trajectory needs to be redirected to ensure that environmental considerations rate much higher in the new agenda.
Between2015 and 2030, the world should aim not merely toachieve the MDGs where they have not been met, but tocarry on with the task initiated at the very start of the UNitself (and represented in the Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights): to secure the basic material needs—andhuman rights—of everybody on the planet. Many placeswill remain poor, but no place should be destitute, unable to meet the basic needs for food, shelter and human dignity. The UN Task Team has included environmental sustainability as one the core dimensions of the post-2015 agenda. The Task Team recognizes several priorities: ensuring a stable climate, stopping ocean acidification, preventing land degradation and unsustainable water use, sustainably managing natural resources and protecting the natural resource base, including biodiversity (UN, 2012: 27). The major challenge is that “sustainability” means different things to different people.

UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon called for a new generation of sustainable development goals to pick up where the MDGs leave off, and that member nations should agree on the means to achieve them. Several ideas have emerged for possible global SDGs, that would be equally important for developed countries such as USA Japan, Australia and European nations, as they would be for emerging economies and least developed countries.

UNEP in a discussion paper[15] lists out some ground rules and discusses the merits and drawbacks of three possible approaches for future SDGs. A set of six criteria or ground rules for assessing or proposing goals and targets, and guidance on how to use them are being proposed. Theyare: (i) Strong linkage of environment with socio-economic developmental goals; (ii) Decouplingsocio-economic development from escalating resource use and environmental degradation; (iii)Coverage of critical issues of environmental sustainability such as important irreversible changes in theglobal environment; (iv) Take into account current global environmental goals and targets, (v) The goals and indicators must be scientificallycredible and verifiable; and (vi) Progress towards sustainable resource use must be “trackable”.

Prof. Jeffery Sachs, of Columbia University’s Earth Institute proposes that[16] future SDGs should be organized into three broad categories of economic development, environmental sustainability, and social inclusion, with the proviso that success in any of these three categories (or subcategories within them) will almost surely depend on success of all three. In this scenario SDGs might have threebottom lines, but achievement of any of them is likely to need concerted global efforts to achieve all of them.Moreover, the three bottom lines will depend on a fourthcondition: good governance at all levels, local, national,regional, and global.

Another option is to mainstream environmental sustainability across all goals (income, jobs and growth must be “green”; food and water considerations and infrastructure must be sustainable). Across the regions however, experts were concerned that if environmental sustainability were mainstreamed, the content would be lost.

A third approach is to form composite goals by blending or merging the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development. Such goals would use abstract concepts such as “rights” or “resilience” to capture the various dimensions of sustainable development. In a sense,
this approach goes beyond the notion of pillars or dimensions of sustainability. An example composite goal would be “to increase human resilience to negative changes or shocks”. An example composite target underpinning this goal would be to achieve a minimum value for the “human development index” in all countries by a particular date.[17]

UNEP proposes that the most ecologically sound approach is an integrated approach that allows definite environmental indicators within a merged goal. Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi (2009) identified four ways to measure sustainability: large and eclectic dashboards; composite indices; indices that consist of correcting GDP in a more or less extensive way; and indices that essentially focus on measuring how far resources are currently “over-consumed,” including the ecological footprint. Of these, correcting for imperfections in GDP may be the least controversial of the approaches and overconsumption indices have the advantage of apparent simplicity.[18]
In 2006, Med Jones[19] proposed a second generation GNH (Gross National Happiness) metric measuring socioeconomic development as an alternative to the standard Gross National Product (GNP) metric.Based on Bhutan’s initial definition of a happy nation crafted around Buddhist spiritual thinking, Jones elaborated theGNH as a socioeconomic policy framework that includes 7 distinct facets; economic, environmental, physical, mental, employment, social and political. Application of such a metric would present a very different perspective of development, and very few economically powerful countries would be able to score high on all the indices, even though their populations would have all (or most) basic needs met. For example the USA in 2009 scores 66.1 out of 100 for GNH.

Another measure that supports ethical and sustainable consumption of resources is The Ecological Footprint. The Ecological Footprint calculates how much biologically productive area is required to produce the resources required by the human population and to absorb humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions. Current ecological footprint standards use global hectares as a measurement unit, which makes data and results globally comparable. For 2007, humanity's total ecological footprint was estimated at 1.5 planet Earths; that is, humanity uses ecological services 1.5 times as quickly as Earth can renew them.This clearly means that, after basic needs are met, human beings have an ecological duty to live ethically and consume responsibly. The core principles of GNH and other such indexes such as the Ecological Footprint and Sustainable Society Index reflected in the discussions on Sustainable Development Goals post Rio+20 Summit in 2012.

Sustainable development goals for South Asia should be defined by ethical consumption and resource management, supported by decentralized governance institutions. On a practical scale such goals should consider realistic and contained milestones for economic progress that reflects on the philosophy of being content with less. Going back to Gandhian roots of self-sufficiency, development models should promote local production systems, local markets and consumption of local food. This requires local governments to invest in seed production, protecting local agriculture by taxing imported food (when local alternatives are readily available, and encouraging value addition of traditional under-utilized crops. Local markets are a key stone of sustainable consumption, where production is not carried through modern transportation systems to distant locations but consumed fresh and locally.

The first cut of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being critiqued for being, at times, impractical and expensive for countries to adopt. A case in point is the target set for Renewable Energy. To double renewable energy generation by 2030 is a target that would be hailed by many environmentalists. However the cost of such a target would undermine its practical application.[20] Target setting remain a highly political and deeply debated issue. However, practical solutions that lead us towards a sustainable future will have to question and review the foundation stones on which human consumption has been constructed. 

At face value, consumption patterns that border on austerity, simplicity and restricted needs may be challenged as a serious infringement on rights. It may be seen as an subversive movement to undermine the market logic of the economic model. However, these are the very core issues that need to be addressed in the coming decade and half. In 2030, where do you want to be? In a world that has artificial comforts and little natural health? Or one that recognises the fundamental position that the natural world has a right to exist alongside eight (or more) billion (not so badly off) humans?



[1] Marxist, Socialist, Capitalist and Market-based

[2] Breaking down the Silos: Report of the Thematic Consultation on Environmental Sustainability in the Post-2015 Agenda UNDP & UNEP 2013

[3] Post 2015 Development Agenda. Special Report 2012 by The Centre for International Governance Innovation

and the Korea Development Institute.


[4] Michaelis, Laurie. The Ethics of Consumption. Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics & Society © Laurie Michaelis 2000


[5]  Michaelis, Laurie. The Ethics of Consumption. Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics & Society © Laurie Michaelis 2000


[6]  Breaking down the Silos: Report of the Thematic Consultation on Environmental Sustainability in the Post-2015 Agenda UNDP & UNEP 2013

[7] Voices of the Poor. World Bank 2000


[8] Such ideology comes from philosophical roots dating way before the 20th Century


[9] beginning with the Tanner Lecture ‘Equality of What?’ delivered at Stanford University in 1979, Professor Sen has developed, refined and defended a framework that is directly concerned with human capability and freedom (Sen, 1980; 1984; 1985; 1987; 1992; 1999)


[10] Breaking down the Silos: Report of the Thematic Consultation on Environmental Sustainability in the Post-2015 Agenda UNDP & UNEP 2013

[11] Michaelis, Laurie. The Ethics of Consumption. Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics & Society © Laurie Michaelis 2000


[12] Coordinated by UNDP and UNEP and Co-chaired by governments of Costa Rica and France


[13] Szmigin, Isabelle and Carrigan, Marylyn. Exploring the Dimensions of Ethical Consumption,University of Birmingham, United Kingdom 2010

[14] Promoting sustainable consumption: good practices in OECD countries – © oecd 2008


[15] UNEP Post-2015 Discussion Paper 1 Published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Version 2, July 2013


[16] Sachs, J D Lancet 2012; 379: 2206–11 Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA


[17] UNEP Post-2015 Discussion Paper 1 Published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Version 2, July 2013


[18] Bates-Eamer, Nicole et al Post-2015 Development Agenda: Goals, Targets and Indicators. Special Report © 2012 by The Centre for International Governance Innovation, Canada and the Korea Development Institute.


[19] Med Jones was the President of International Institute of Management.

[20] Lomborg, Bjorn. Project Syndicate 2014. Reproduced in The Sunday Times Sri Lanka on 25 May 2014


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