Contributions to NL - Making sense of sustainable production and consumption
Terms of NGO Engagement
Sylvia Lorek, Jeffrey Barber
Working on Sustainable Production and Consumption means dealing with interactions between the
natural system, the social system and the economic system. It intends to reduce unsustainable resource
consumption, and the spread of harmful substances, to improve working conditions, and to satisfy
consumer needs. ANPED has been involved in Sustainable Production and Consumption issues for
more than a decade, e.g. campaigning against Genetically Modified Organisms GMO’s, water
pollution, and the unaccountable practices of business and industry. It additionally has a long tradition
in highlighting and lobbying for the SPAC issue on the international political level at the CSD, OECD
and in other processes.
The issue of Sustainable Production and Consumption can be viewed from a number of different
perspectives -- as an ideal system (as in the economic system of supply and demand) and "overriding
objective" (as identified by the World Summit on Sustainable Development), and as a field of
policymaking and political action. In the latter, it is important to understand the differing approaches
and emphases of the different players. This can be seen in some of the terminology currently used.
Traditionally the international NGO community - also within ANPED - refers to Sustainable
Production and Consumption as SPAC. This term emphasizes a challenge to the traditional economic
myth that consumers are primarily responsible for the unsustainable production processes, products
and practices -- that business and industry are simply responding to public "demand." While
recognizing the responsibility of citizens to educate themselves and demand sustainability, NGOs also
tend to highlight the need to hold business and government accountable for their part in the problem.
As a result ANPED’s SPAC work highlights the proper interaction between consumption, production,
investment, and distribution as necessary prerequisites for reaching sustainability. (See
Also stakeholder participation is a vital component in the SPAC approach. In addition to citizens,
government and business other stakeholders bring valuable resources and play a vital role in the move
towards SPAC. They include academics, trade unions, youth, science and technology, investors..
In the follow up to the Johannesburg Summit and its call for 10 Years Framework of
Programs a new acronym became popular. SCP, Sustainable Consumption and Production,
used especially by UNEP and many governments, emphasizes a somewhat different concept
and understanding. Its more market-oriented, deregulatory and industry friendly emphasis is
to increase consumer demand for environmental or "green" products. Business responsibility
is respond to consumer demand governmental responsibility is limited to moderating between
consumer/environmental/sustainability groups and industry. Additionally the SCP concept
and its protagonists view advertising as a solution and not a cause of unsustainable production
and consumption patterns.
As NGOs participate in the official process, it is important not to confuse but to distinguish
between these two terms and the different views and priorities they represent.
Consumption patterns are responsible for a growing share of unsustainable development.
Accordingly, the focus of concern in consumption and production shifted from the reduction
of emissions to resource consumption, from end-of-pipe to point of purchase during the last
decade. This changed the role of consumers - also in the concepts of NGO’s - from being a
victim of environmental hazards to being an active political player. Thus the concept of
"sustainable consumption" received increasing attention. However, this term carries different
First: sustainable consumption can refer to sustainable resource consumption, taking into
account the complete product lifecycle reducing consumption of depletable resources via a
more efficient use or substitution with renewable resources. Sustainable resource
consumption involves consumers, producers, and public households.
Second: Sustainable consumption can simply imply responsible demand by public and private
households. This meaning, excludes responsibility of business and industry.
Third: Sustainable consumption can be limited to private consumption only, as reflected in the
concept of sustainable household consumption. .
At the other end of the cycle, there continues to be a need to promote sustainable production.
This realm may also have different meanings and priorities for different players. For example,
there continues to be a need for regulation and compliance mechanisms as well as market-
based and other efforts to ensure improvements in health and safety standards in the
workplace as well as in the products and services produced. Sustainable production can be
emphasize simply with regard to technical innovation in the design and improvement of
products and/or production processes, as in the promotion of industrial ecology and the
"cradle to cradle" approach by producers. Sustainable production can additionally be viewed
with increasing emphasis on private/public investment, for example in the movements toward
Socially Responsible Investment, subsidy reform and eco-tax shifting. From the perspective
of trade unions, the sustainable livelihoods of workers (i.e., consumers as producers) are just
as important as the production processes and products.
Instruments for change
Whether NGOs initiate changes in production processes, on resource consumption or on
household consumption, they need effective actions appropriate concepts and tools.
The following essential instruments to achieve sustainable consumption and production:
Ecological fiscal reform
Clean and eco-effective production
Corporate responsibility and accountability
Education for sustainable consumption and production
Information and public participation for sustainable consumption and production
Coherence within diversity
Working towards sustainable production requires not only promoting innovation
and efficiency but also holding producers as well as polluters accountable for their
Activity towards sustainable resource consumption requires lobbying for fiscal
reform and policy recommendations for eco-effective production. In both cases
consumers should be informed but changes have to come from governments and
Influencing household consumption requires information and education, as well
as alternatives, promotion of behavioural changes, and institutional changes for
These approaches and possibilities to pursue sustainable production and consumption
patterns call for of NGO activities. Within ANPED’s long term strategy they all can find a
place within a coherent framework.