Today, March 15, is World Consumer Rights Day, which is celebrated every year around the globe to raise awareness on issues affecting consumers’ lives.
US president John F. Kennedy was the first world leader who recognised the important role consumers play in the economy.
On March 15, 1962, while addressing the US Congress on the issue of consumer rights, he declared that “consumers by definition, include us all. They are the largest economic group, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Yet they are the only important group whose views are often not heard.”
Every year Consumers International identifies a theme to for this day.
This year the focus is on ‘The Sustainable Consumer’.
Sustainability is essentially about ensuring that consumers make smart use of the world’s limited resources. Sustainable consumption and production is about doing more and better with less.
Consumers play a very important role in the market as their purchasing decisions can shape markets and production patterns. These choices have a huge impact on natural resources.
However, for consumers to instinctively opt for sustainable choices, they need to be the easy option. Consumers need to have access to sustainable products that are affordable and available.
Consumers need to be adequately informed about the quality and durability of the products they are interested in buying
Some products are designed with a limited useful life and include key components that are impossible to replace. This, in turn, generates more sales.
Products that consumers use on a daily basis, such as white goods and other electric products, are vulnerable to mechanical breakdowns, and if repair is difficult, if not impossible or too costly, consumers are left with no other option but to throw them away and purchase new ones.
The attitude of replacing old with new because repair costs are too high or because spare parts are not available, is unsustainable. Furthermore, consumers need to be adequately informed about the quality and durability of the products they are interested in buying.
Lack of information prevents consumers from making an informed choice between a durable product and one that does the same job but is likely to break or stop working within a short period of time.
Information about a product’s life expectancy, repairability and the quality of the materials used in the making of the product is essential for consumers to make a ‘sustainable’ choice. Products that last longer and can be reused or repaired do not end up in landfills. Hence, they generate less waste and there is less need for new resources to be extracted at great financial and environmental cost.
To effectively reduce the consumers’ environmental footprint, education is key. Education reconciles consumption with responsibility and it is an indispensable tool to create a sustainable culture. Education enables consumers to be clever and conscious of their buying behaviour and its impact on the environment.
It is therefore crucial that we as consumers make informed decisions that factor in sustainability.
Odette Vella is Director, Information and Research Directorate