Sustainable or Ethical Consumption ?

Differences between ethical and sustainable consumption

Sustainable, Eco-Friendly and Ethical Consumption can bring a lot of confusion when comes on where and how we use these terms, especially that in today’s landscape is a careless practice of using these terms lightly and synonymously, especially by marketers.

We understand that for those who are new to the concept of sustainability and ethics, understanding the differences between the two can be a little bit difficult. Here are some definitions for these two terms:

Ethical – relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these.

Sustainable – able to be maintained at a certain rate or level; conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.

Did you know?

  • The concept of sustainable consumption was established in chapter 4 of the Agenda 21 at UNCED in 1992.
  • Sustainable consumption was requested to be incorporated by UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) into the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection.

What is Sustainable Consumption ?

Sustainable consumption is defined as the use of material products, energy and immaterial services in the way to minimize the impact on environment on short and longer term. Consumption refers to any individual or entity such as institutions or governments. A sustainable consumption is considered to be as part of a sustainable lifestyle.

Also, few people think that “Fair Trade” comes under a sustainable production as the creation is considered sustainable to networks of ranchers and craftsmen when putting resources into eco-ventures.

What is Ethical Consumption ?

Ethical consumption is a more extensive term that can envelop Fair Trade and sustainable consumption; however, it isn’t constantly accurate. Ethical consumption has no particular arrangement of practices or rules. Ethical consumption rose out of the expansive school of moral, effective consumption and last but not least, depends on a ‘do no mischief’ rule.

Ethical consumption incorporates everything from upcycling (recovering textures from second-hand) to Fair Trade hand-made caps and using 100% eco-friendly materials. 

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Issues around Consumption

There are two aspects we need to consider when comes to ethical consumption:

1. Ethical Production – relates to how goods and services are produced, starting with the processes and people involved in the production. 

2. Fair Consumption – relates to whether you are consuming your fair share of goods and services. This matter raises the question of what is actually fairness and is often seen as a relative concept. For example, a tricky and not simple question to answer is about the level of consumption between different areas of the globe. 

What can we do about Ethical Consumption ?

When comes to environment and our behaviours, we need to start small, we are not perfect, but with small steps, we can generate a big differences. Is the same case here, we can take small steps to improve the fairness of our consumption.

  1. Don’t waste food – the amount the food that is thrown each year is often one of the major problems when comes to production. To become more sustainable and to improve your fairness, start planning ahead and buy what you need when you need it. Try be as efficient in buying and checking the “use by” dates .
  2. If you don’t need something, consider give it away to someone which maybe needs it – If you don’t need something, don’t throw it away if is still in a decent shape, consider the charity shops or give it to somebody in need. If are in really good condition consider reselling your item.
  3. Offsetting – is a concept which describes the idea that you don’t have to reduce your consumption drastically if you take other action to offset its impact. For example, give regular donations to charities which are working with poverty and disadvantages areas in developing countries to offset the fact that you have more than others.
  4. Before you buy anything, consider if you really need it – always ask yourself if you really need that item before you buy it. This way, you will get more conscious and thoughtful about your shopping habits.
  5. Buying locally whenever possible – encourage the local businesses to develop by buying their products. This way you will reduce the environmental impact of transporting goods.
  6. You do get what you pay for – normally a higher prices would mean that those goods are ethical produces and sourced. However, you should always check the ethical credentials of a company before you buy from it. 

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Why is important to ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production?

As we discussed before, the sustainability has become a goal in today’s global landscape. Integrating environmental sustainability with economic growth and welfare is one of the greatest challenges, but from latest 90’s have been integrated in legislation, for example in UN SDG – Goal 12.

More and more, we need to ensure sustainable consumption and production practices to be able to respect the biophysical boundaries of the planet and to reduce global consumption rates in order to fit with the Earth’s capacity to maintain and regenerate its ecosystems and resources.

ethical and sustainable consumption Un SDG goal 12

Did you know?

  • If entire world would switch to energy efficient lightbulbs, the world would save more than £100 billions annually;
  • By 2050, is forecasted that the global population will reach 9.6 billion which will require an equivalent of almost 3 planets to provide the natural resources needed to sustain the current lifestyles;
  • Humankind is pollutin water faster than nature can recycle and purify water in rivers and lakes;
  • Only 3% of world’s water is fresh, drinkable water of which 2.5% is frozen in the Antarctica or Artic;
  • Households consume 29 % of global energy and consequently contribute to 21% of CO2 emissions;
  • Every year, 3 billion tonnes of food is wasted while almost 2 billion people don’t have sufficient food; 
  • The food sector requires 30% of global energy consumption while produces 22% of total Greenhouses emissions.

Becoming more thoughtful and adopting a more zero waste and plastic-free attitude will help reducing our impact on the environment. Changing our production and consumption patterns will make a difference and by having the correct legislation, the right changes will be made. We just need to keep informed and be more thoughtful when comes to what, from where and how we buy and consume. 

Do you have more tips? Also, if you found our “Sustainable or ethical consumption? Differences between ethical and sustainable consumption” article useful, please share it with your loved ones and friends and who knows? We can be the change.  Thank you and hope to see you soon. 

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