GLOBAL – A new programme that aims to harness the power of consumers, through better-informed buying decisions, to shift to a more resource-efficient world, has been launched globally.
Called the 10YFP Consumer Information Programme (CIP), this initiative aims to provide accurate information to consumers about the environment and social impacts of the products they consume, in the hope that it will help push the shift to more sustainable consumption and production patterns.
The programme is the second action to get under way as part of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP), mandated by the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development in 2012.
With the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which hosts the 10YFP Secretariat, the CIP will be co-led by the Governments of Germany and Indonesia along with Consumers International - the UK-based world federation of consumer groups with over 240 member organisations in 120 countries, which serves as the independent voice for consumers rights.
The CIP will assist governments, standards organizations, businesses and NGOs in their efforts to provide clear, accurate and reliable information about a product's impact on the planet and its people.
It will review existing information tools and systems, such as voluntary standards, ecolabels and marketing claims, with the aim of enhancing their effectiveness by harmonizing data and criteria. It will also explore new communication channels to reach consumers effectively.
"Sustainable consumption and production is about doing more and better with less," said Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP. "But for consumers to be able to achieve that goal, they need to have confidence in the accuracy and verity of the information they are basing their decisions upon."
"The Consumer Information Programme of the 10YFP is a critical step towards this goal as it will better inform consumers around the world on choices which drive sustainable consumption. The programme draws in governments and businesses who are actually responsible for relevant policies, information tools and production processes, promoting multi-stakeholder cooperation in this drive for sustainable consumption."
Confusing information leave consumers bluffed and sceptical
According to UNEP, research indicates that the number of new ecolabels has increased each year since the 1990s, with about 400 existing ecolabels today - an indication of the high and rising consumer demand for sustainable goods and services.
Besides alleviating environmental problems, choosing sustainable products can also result in substantial savings in material as well as in financial terms, noted UNEP. However, consumers need clear information to guide them on these often complex issues, as they face an ever-increasing number of labels and standards, which convey widely differing and sometimes misleading information about products' impacts.
Surveys show that the proliferation of sustainability information tools often confuse consumers, who are unable to make an informed choice because the bases on which the sustainability information is developed are often not comparable. This ultimately results in a shift from consumer interest to scepticism.
Need for reliable information to educate consumers
"More than 70% of the greenhouse gases in the world are caused by household decisions. Reliable consumer information is key to enable consumers to make informed choices for purchasing sustainable products and services," said Barbara Hendricks, Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, Germany
Consumer information is equally important in developing and emerging economies. "With the rise of the middle class around the world - in particular in Asia where 66% of the global middle-class population will be by 2030 - embracing the resource efficiency challenge is an imperative,” said Balthasar Kambuaya, the Minister of Environment, Indonesia.
“Quality information is crucial in this journey in which Indonesia has embarked."
The CIP aims to be a global platform, raising awareness of relevant policies, strategies, projects and partnerships, and encouraging cooperation across products and sectors to harmonize and clarify sustainability information. It will look at products along their whole life cycles, from resource extraction to end-of-life disposal.
"Ensuring consumers have access to accurate, understandable and timely information is central to building environmental, social and economic sustainability,” said Justin Macmullan head of advocacy and campaigns at Consumers International. “We look forward to working with partners to build on the great work that is already being done and launch new initiatives that empower consumers to play their part in the shift towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production."