According to National Geographic, approximately 1.7 billion people worldwide belong to the “consumer class”. They eat processed food, desire bigger houses and bigger cars, and buy goods over and above the necessities. Economist Homi Kharas of the Brookings Institution estimates that by 2030, two thirds of the world’s middle class will be in Asia.
Last year in Singapore, private consumption expenditure on recreation, clothing, food, travel expenses and other items amounted to more than $100 billion. Generation Y in Asia-Pacific is no doubt contributing to this expenditure, as it has strong purchasing power with a combined disposable income of around US$900 billion according to Asiaone.com.
While increased consumption helps create jobs and stabilise the economy, the demand is stretching the planet’s resources, causing serious issues. It certainly doesn’t help that we’re surrounded by countless advertisements enticing us to spend.
Worldcentric.org states there are environmental and social consequences of uncontrolled consumption. With increased consumption, our air, land and water get more polluted by industrial and tourism-related waste.
According to the United Nations, 86 percent of the world’s resources are consumed by only 20 percent of the world’s population. To meet their demand, limited resources are often directed towards luxury items instead of necessities such as food, water, health and sanitation for the poor.
On a positive note, a strong number of consumers in Singapore are increasingly supportive of products made according to fair trade principles, says the latest MasterCard survey on ethical spending. They are willing to make more responsible and environmentally friendly purchases.
Companies are also putting in an effort to be more sustainable and ethical while still remaining successful. Originals, a furniture company in Singapore, gives wood a second life. Its Indian range is made of recycled teak that has been restored or remodelled and is combined with stainless steel, glass and other materials to create one-of-a-kind pieces. It also works with a partner that ethically sources wood by using reclaimed timber from derelict buildings or old warehouses.
EarthCheck is the travel and tourism industry’s leading environmental management, benchmarking and certification company. It also rates the effectiveness of industry efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and conserve natural resources. Coco Palm Bodu Hithi, a resort near Malé, Maldives, was recently awarded the EarthCheck certificate. The luxury resort was rated against standard EarthCheck Best Practice levels for its contribution to water savings, waste recycling and community commitment, among others.
If you are travelling over the Christmas holidays, check how environmentally friendly your accommodation is and also consider your carbon footprint when flying. And think before buying a Christmas gift for someone, too. Is it environmentally friendly? Has it been ethically produced? Could you buy a nearly-new one on eBay or Craigslist instead?