Author: Akumun Emmanuel
Human nature is such that it relies heavily on consumption to survive and consumption activities create the demand for production, which in turn relies on natural resources. However, in order to meet up with our current consumption demands, we require a large number of factories for production, cars for mobility and other relevant machinery, most of which are powered by fossil fuels or require a lot of energy to function. These, coupled with other human activities, are pumping an enormous amount of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere which is making the planet warmer and pointing to the obvious truth; we as individuals and society must adopt and promote more responsible ways of consumption and production. This is simply taking into account the environmental impacts of our lifestyle habits or choices, the products and services we choose to consume and the manner in which we exploit our resources for production, to be more in harmony with our environment and nature. It has never been more crucial.
It is worth noting that the issue of responsible consumption and production is so important to our survival, the environment and planet hence its recognition as SDG 12 - Developing a framework for circular economy. We at the Center for Sustainable Transformation (CeST), realize how much of a responsibility this puts on our shoulders as an organization. Which is why we are currently collaborating with the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), who are already doing work on SDG 12; to further strengthen efforts on achieving targets 12.8 of ensuring that; people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature and; (ii) education for sustainable development (including climate change education) are included in (a) national education policies; (b) curricula and (c) teacher education. However, we cannot rest nor relent as it would require personal, individual, group and community efforts in ensuring that these goals are met.
Image: Citi Newsroom// Fumes from Factory
Most or some readers of this article may want to argue, using existing information and data, to say that; Africa as a whole does not even contribute up to 5% of global greenhouse emissions. This would mean that Ghana’s contributing quota is insignificant compared to the industrialized countries. But that is not the narrative or discourse that this article intends to dwell on. Instead, it emphasizes how in Africa’s significantly low contribution to global greenhouse emissions, lies the opportunity for her and Ghana by translation, to urgently begin her journey towards responsible consumption and production, in a holistic approach that takes into account the sustenance of our environment and the survival of our planet as a whole.Many factors such as natural processes within the climate system and human activities influence our climate. As mentioned earlier, the climate change we are experiencing today is due mainly to human activities and it is making the planet warmer. Most of these human practices center on consumption and production. To ensure the inhabitability of our environment and the survival of our planet, we must start thinking about ways of consuming responsibly and producing sustainably. Which brings us to the big question, what can you do?
Choosing sustainable lifestyles
Sustainable lifestyles can be defined as; a way of living that is facilitated by efficient infrastructures, services, products, individual choices and actions to minimize the use of natural resources, emissions, waste and pollution. Simply, it means prioritizing the use of natural and renewable resources, instead of creating excess waste and depleting environmental resources in a way that makes it difficult for future generations to meet their own needs. Environmentally, Africa, particularly Ghana, faces numerous environmental challenges such as extreme vulnerability to climate change. Even at the time of writing this article, the weather is unusually hotter than it has ever been in the past. Over exploitation of resources like the illegal mining of gold which we all now know as Galamsey is causing increased damages, coastal and marine habitats and resources are under threat from waste pollution, particularly plastic. Deforestation in Ghana is also on the rise due to the felling of trees for the production of domestic cooking charcoal and for construction and building purposes and general industrial activities are contributing to the burden of diseases. All of these problems being faced are pointers that we urgently need to adjust our lifestyle habits to include taking care of our resources and the environment.
In most African countries, new and emerging markets often do not offer enough information about their products. Making it challenging for consumers to have access to sustainable and safe products and services. In Ghana for instance, some of us have a habit of patronizing unbranded products with little or no information about how they were made or what impacts they have on our health or environment. As a country striving to move to more sustainable options of consumption and production, understanding sustainability impacts and having access to information helps us make informed choices on what products to patronize and which not to. In order to do this, we as consumers must understand ecolabelling, which is; the practice of marking products by their manufacturers, with a distinctive label so that consumers know their manufacturing conforms to recognized environmental standards.
Photo: Eco-Intelligent TM // Eco-Labels
Use sustainable means of mobility
In the area of mobility or transportation, which has experienced a lot of changes due to emerging technologies, we have seen modes of transport multiply, grow in size, power and of course, speed up as well. However, we must ask ourselves the impact of this growth on the environment in which we live. Between 2000 and 2010, Ghana was part of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies. Between then and now, people have had to upgrade their individual means of mobility as they grew in prosperity. This has led to an unprecedented amount of vehicle importation which has made us heavily reliant on carbon emitting vehicles and this is not a sustainable pattern for our environment.
For a start, as a responsible consumer or one who is trying to become one, always consider more sustainable options of getting around. Options like bicycles or walking, for making short trips, can contribute in making our environment cleaner, healthier and safer to live in as short journeys by car add to pollution levels. For instance, a five kilometer journey made by car emits 10 times more carbon dioxide per passenger than a bus and 25 times more than a train. As a responsible consumer with the means to, buying environmentally friendly vehicles & maintaining them to last can go a long way as well. Also, before you buy a bike or car, check its energy consumption rate, pollution performance & ability to take unleaded fuel.
YRE Reporter/ National Coordinator, Rosemary Balami, Testing riding an Electric Motorcycle at an E-Mobility event
Be well informed on your food choices
Health, they say, is wealth. So looking after the environment is just as important as looking after your health. And this can be done in the form of being conscious of the kinds of food or food products that you consume. As a responsible consumer who is conscious and intentional about your health, you should demand more reliable and understandable information on the food you buy. This could range from questions such as; the origin of the food, whether it fulfills safety standards, whether the foods are free of pesticides or have been grown in an ethical manner with minimal damage to the environment and human treatment of animals are all sustainable consumption habits that you can practice. There is power in choice and we should all be provided with sufficient and quality information to help us make the right ones. For instance, it requires 25-35 kg of cereals to produce 1 kg of red meat. Reducing red meat consumption has few environmental impacts in the sense that 25-35 kg of cereal is an enormous amount of food to spend in producing 1 kg of meat especially when viewed from the lens of wanting to cut down on food consumption or consuming responsibly.
As a responsible consumer, you can instead opt for Chicken which has a smaller environmental impact than red meat and is 15 times less environmentally damaging per serving because Chickens tend to consume less food than animals like Cows from whence red meat is obtained. As a consumer transiting to a more sustainable lifestyle, you can try to eat more diverse foods for a change. Healthy diets, including organically, sustainably and locally grown foods. This has an impact on local farmers who respond to market demands. Similarly, patronizing and insisting on organically and sustainably grown foods encourages other farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices. The demand for such foods encourages farmers to grow them.
Optimize your energy use
Some African countries like Ghana who have attained a decent level of electricity generation and supply do not necessarily have an energy increment problem, but rather an energy optimization one. And this can be achieved through switching to more energy efficient appliances and solar generated energy as an alternative means of energy generation. Improved management of current energy systems is what Ghana currently needs.
In order to optimize energy as a responsible consumer, we must all consider shifting to energy efficient appliances (i.e electronics that consume less energy but perform the same function as those who do) and cultivating habits such as putting off our appliances when they are not in use, not leaving fridge doors for longer than necessary, demanding product labeling to know their energy performance and using only energy efficient light-bulbs.
A six stars rated energy-efficient light bulb.
The threat of biodiversity loss appears for a variety of linked and obvious reasons – over-harvesting of plants, over-hunting of animals, climate change and pollution all threaten the ecological balance between species. Unsustainable human practices have immense impacts on the health and survival of plants and animals. Urban, industrial expansion and hunting practices are endangering the survival of many animals in the form of habitat loss in Ghana and Africa. These consequences are not only being felt on animals but on plants as well, posing a possible biodiversity crisis if swift action is not taken. We must all realize and appreciate the fact that, our biodiversity is a precious resource that should not be taken for granted thus, we must take actionable steps such as not buying products derived from endangered species, not eating meat gotten from endangered species, participating in biodiversity campaigns and practicing composting waste which can serve as habitats for wildlife as ways of ensuring biodiversity.
Solving the issues of climate change, biodiversity loss, energy optimization, moving to sustainable lifestyles, saving water, understanding ecolabeling and saving water requires us all to work together in adjusting our lifestyles in ways that may seem inconvenient for us at first. Particularly, by choosing to consume responsibly and producing sustainably. As responsible consumers, we have a key role to play in addressing and combating climate change through our positive actions like identifying areas in which climate change affects our communities and starting or joining existing campaigns to raise awareness about the issue, educating those around us about climate change, reconsidering our purchasing habits, joining organizations or groups that promote sustainable consumption and production and buying local and seasonal products. Or it could even be through little actions such as reconsidering how we use water or simply turning off our electrical appliances when leaving the house or when they are not in use. Remember, saving energy will also save you money.