Individual Responsibility to SDGs: Sustainable Consumer Behaviour

By Himanshu Sekhar Panigrahi

Since the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2016, contribution by governments, NGOs, corporate bodies, social enterprises and global agencies to these goals is being urged consistently at national and international platforms meant for this purpose. However, in this drive for generating organizational efforts what is more or less missing is the push for individual and household responsibility. For this reason, individual identity with the SDGs seems to be below the mark even after two years and a half since the unveiling of these universal goals. As conscious citizens of this planet all individuals can collectively unleash a huge potential for effectively accomplishing the SDGs. One definite way for the individuals and the households is their sensible behaviour as consumers.

The world, since its very beginning, moves on consumption. Consumers are key players in the economy of any country. The consumption pattern, decided by socio-cultural factors and individual personality, varies from region to region, and person to person. Consumption choice reflects the uniqueness and identity of one entity or group. Also, it experiences change over time at individual as well as at combined level. Consumption as a whole is a series of activities consisting of buying, using and post-use dealing of products and services. All these stages of activities invariably have some bearing on the social, economic and environmental aspects all together.

Though the decision of what and how to consume can be termed as the “exclusive prerogative” of any individual or group, the consequence of such consumption spreads beyond specific boundaries and can be felt across regions, even by the non-consumers. This consequence holds lasting impact and encroaches on all and sundry. It is so because consumption involves use of resources which are mostly limited and of the entire globe as a whole. And, the effects of consumption pervade water, air and soil that all living beings depend upon.

The resources, derived from nature, gets gradually exhausted by being used over a certain period of time. High resource-utilization level results in adverse effect on environment. Irresponsible consumption and misuse of resources amount to violence with nature and lead to unsustainable situation. Given the unforgiving nature of the nature, such antagonism ends up in environmental vulnerability and destructions, one after another.

As the aforesaid phenomenon is much in evidence for last couple of decades and is fast moving towards an upsetting state of affairs, the responsible function of every individual as consumer has become highly critical and urgent. In the context of SDGs which have a timeline till 2030, all the consumers are expected to act prudently while dealing with resources, non-renewable or renewable. It is high time to correct and improve the everyday consumption habit. Since there is a solid connection between consumption and sustainability the standard of living and life should be based on “sustainable consumer behaviour” which emanates from personal ethics and principles.

It is about how a consumer aligns his needs and desires with his social responsibility. For this, how does one ‘recognize needs’ and ‘define desires’ is the fundamental factor. Conscious consumption is “use of goods and services which fulfill the primary needs meant for a good life, whereas minimizing the utilization of natural resources and negative effects or residues throughout the life-cycle of these goods and services”. The process of consumption begins with buying, and ends with the end of the life-cycle of any particular product and service. Hence, what we buy, how we use them, and how we deal with them after use- all these collectively establish our consumer behaviour.

To begin with the “Buying Stage”, the consumer comes in contact with the product or service the first time at this stage. Hence, the consumer must apply his consciousness as well as knowledge of how the product is made or the service is developed and how does it reach them. Even if the consumer is an ethical buyer, it is becomes necessary to make an ‘informed choice’ while taking ownership. In addition to making an economic cost-benefit analysis before purchasing, social and environmental cost-benefit investigation must be done. Though it is difficult for any consumer to examine the process used for the goods and service throughout the supply chain, any hint of irregularity or unethical means adopted must be seriously noticed and considered for avoiding those items.

The collective consumer behaviour, good or bad, decides the success or failure of any product or service. Also, it influences national and international policies and norms on design, manufacturing, marketing and pricing of goods and services. By this, the ‘demand-side behaviour’ by the buyers persuades the ‘supply-side behaviour’ of the producers and sellers. To be a responsible consumer, individuals and households need to purchase goods and services considering their low resource-intensive merit, energy-efficiency, longevity, and environmental-friendly quality.

Also, the consumers must see that the products and services they pick have been made without violating human rights. Products conforming to the standards set by the regulating bodies of government and global certifiers must be preferred. Further, ‘reducing’ the requirements and living with the minimum is the ideal way. Also, care ought to be given on how do we do shopping- by carrying items through polluting plastic bags or environment-friendly fabric bags.

The next in the process is “Use Stage”. After what we buy, the importance moves to how we consume. Optimum and appropriate use of the purchased goods is beneficial for both the consumer and environment. For ensuring long-term efficiency of the products, perishable or non-perishable, proper maintenance is needed. Everyday energy consumption of households is a big factor for national energy saving. Household members must behave sensibly for minimum use of water, fuel, transport facilities and gadgets, and in minimum generation of waste. Energy-efficient domestic appliances should be preferred by the households.

The last of consumption process is “Post-use Stage”. What the consumers do with the remains and waste after use of goods and service is critical for an environmentally-concern attitude. The options of this stage i.e. Reuse, Recycle and Dispose of a product need be carefully chosen. Household waste management is an art in itself. This must be accorded due priority for avoiding environmental pollution.  In support to municipal solid waste management efforts, households should ensure proper segregation at source of waste materials.

Consumer behaviour always evolves. And, in this age of increased consumerism this behaviour has become highly complicated. So, in the context of SDGs it is highly desirable that the evolution of consumer behaviour happens towards sustainability. This behaviour is determined by the consumer’s attitude and knowledge. Self-centric attitude must be contained consciously. And, knowledge or awareness of the consumption process in respect of our environment and future needs to be increased and updated. Households as well as education institutes hold a key role to turn the next generation consumers i.e. children to be socially and environmentally responsible.

Authors: Himanshu Sekhar Panigrahi works with Hindustan Copper Limited as Dy. Manager-CSR. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors in this feature are entirely his own and does not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.

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