• Is the Future Yours: UNESCO & UNEP: 2000
• youthxchange (Follow-up training kit and web site): UNES...
Australian Context
Australia is a consumer society. Per capita consumption spending doubled (in real
terms) between 1949 a...
    In the past, the majority of learning of any significance took place in the form of
    transfer of knowle...
How? Barriers
However, a high level of social concern does not necessarily translate into personal
action. This disconnect...
Raising Awareness of Appropriate Action (Knowledge)
• educate young people about the impacts of their consumption patterns...
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1 Wu Sustainable Consumption


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1 Wu Sustainable Consumption

  1. 1. Introduction Sources • Is the Future Yours: UNESCO & UNEP: 2000 • youthxchange (Follow-up training kit and web site): UNESCO & UNEP: 2002 • Sustainable Consumption: Young Australians as Agents of Change: National Youth Affairs Research Scheme (Griffith University, IYPF): 2004 • otherWISE project (Follow-up training programme for young people): IYPF: 2006 These included: • Review of academic and policy-related literature, including techniques to empower young people and a review of sustainable consumption tools and strategies • Global and national surveys of youth & face-to-face discussions with key youth representatives and informed young people • A review of a wide range of good practice case studies • A discussion of sustainable consumption policies and implications for youth sector policy implementation Definition Sustainable consumption is a broad term that argues a multifaceted response to unsustainable consumption in developed economies such as Australia, and to under- consumption in the developing world. The common features of sustainable consumption definitions include an emphasis on: • satisfying basic human needs (not the desire for “wants” and luxuries); • privileging quality of life concerns over material standards of living; • minimising resource use, waste and pollution; • taking a life-cycle perspective in consumer decision-making; and • acting with concern for future generations. Why? General Context This study has identified many of the main influences on young people’s consumption. These influences can be summarised as follows: Demand-side factors – • cultural and historical values; • political and socio-economic factors; • knowledge factors; and • socio-psychological factors. Supply-side factors – • consumer culture and advertising; • media and mass marketing in schools; • green marketing; and • national public policies.
  2. 2. Australian Context Australia is a consumer society. Per capita consumption spending doubled (in real terms) between 1949 and 1994. Australia now owns more cars per 100 persons than the USA and is second, just behind the USA, at the head of the world listing of ‘ecological footprint’ size. Young adults in Australia have grown up in the glamorous world of advertising where the “good life” is promoted and associations between symbols are reinforced: “materialism” equals “freedom” and “progress”. This is the world in which they are trying to study, work, make friends, enjoy themselves and create personal and group identities. On the social front, everyday life today is very much a material one. It is a world in which “social life is largely made possible by material objects, and their manufacture, exchange and consumption provides the framework and means of most forms of social interaction and cultural interchange.” As a result, consumerism in Australia – and the values that owning and displaying different products signify – is not only a means of creating wealth, satisfying personal needs and forming and maintaining social networks. It is also one of the chief ways through which young adults establish their personal identities and present themselves to others. Why Target Young People in Particular? The obvious democratic arguments apply • young people aged under 20 years make up 40 per cent of the world’s population; they make significant and unique contributions to society, and have a right to be consulted and involved in decisions that will affect their lives, now and in the future. Big Spenders • Young people represent a large proportion of total consumption expenditure in affluent societies, including Australia, and these young consumers possess substantial power over the market – something young people are often unaware of. Industry experts estimate the size of combined youth spending power in eleven major economies including Australia to be in excess of 750 billion dollars. With a high proportion of disposable income, Australian young people spend a large proportion of their money on leisure goods and activities. Clothes, food, entertainment and communications equipment are among the most popular. A 2005 study by the Australia Institute also indicates that young people also waste more than older people. Wasteful consumption of food, for instance, falls sharply as age increases. Among 18-24 year olds, 38 per cent admit to wasting more than $30 on fresh food per fortnight, whereas only seven per cent of people aged 70 or over admit to similar levels of waste. Such a large body of spending makes young people a prime demographic within which to develop a consciousness and awareness of sustainable consumption.
  3. 3. Influence • In the past, the majority of learning of any significance took place in the form of transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next. This vertical socialisation still is a cornerstone in most societies, but today the learning process has become more complex. A significant amount of socialisation and cultural transfers take place in the form of a horizontal process between children and young people, within their own country as well as between countries. More recently, however, a new dimension of socialisation has emerged. In certain fields, the adult community receives so much important input from children and young people that the traditional learning process has been reversed. There are several reasons for this. Young people in Australia today spend a longer time on their education, and are older than earlier generations when entering the workforce and when starting a family. This freedom from responsibility makes them less bound by convention, more open to alternatives and quick to pick up emerging ideas. Young people serve as antennas picking up signals too faint for adults to notice. We see this in a number of areas, including gender equality, opposition to violence and racism, involvement in the environment and human rights, new trends in fashion and music, and especially in relation to the new media. Additionally: young people’s preoccupation with becoming part of a group may also be an important ‘lever’ for sustainable consumption initiatives. In other words, if one can convince young adults that sustainable consumption is ‘fashionable’, their consumer clout and prominence in the popular media means that one will be more likely to be able develop support for the proposition in the wider community. As influential members of many households and more generally in the community, more open to change and as future decision-makers themselves, young people are key targets to be empowered, educated and informed of ways in which they can act as agents of change in relation to sustainable consumption. High Concern for the Environment • Young Australians also have high levels of concern for the environment. While the relationship between environmental concern and behaviour is, at best, tenuous, high levels of concern for the environment combined with an emerging environmental ethic predisposes young adults to the adoption of more sustainable consumption patterns. High levels of concern for the environment have been identified in a number of surveys of young Australians. For example, an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey in 1998 revealed that 74% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 rated their level of environmental concern as ‘high’ or ‘very high’. Similarly, a recent survey of over 5,500 young Australians aged 14 to 17 years found that young people overwhelmingly supported the need to protect the environment over and above economic growth, and held beliefs that strongly favoured ecological rather than technological or economic priorities.
  4. 4. How? Barriers However, a high level of social concern does not necessarily translate into personal action. This disconnection has been explained through ambivalence young people feel about social problems and solutions. There is high support for environmental issues, the idea that young people • consume too much, and the idea that changes in individual consumption can benefit the environment and others’ wellbeing, but: Most young people don’t feel as if they have control over their own consumption • choices, and they do not consider a product’s impact when buying. Ambivalence The opposition by adults toward some important social issues in society has caused many young people to become disenchanted, pessimistic, and often even angry. In particular, a lost sense of purpose / belonging and a sense that there is little wider support in their community for progressive social movements in the consumer society restrict many young people from taking action. Other barriers to action on sustainable consumption include: • people are constantly told to consume more; • lack of time and money; • lack of political and community support; • selfishness; • lack of training and education; • habit, embarrassment and shyness; • not knowing what brands are sustainable; and • turning knowledge into action. However, there are solutions to all of these barriers, and there is a range of enabling conditions within communities that need to exist so that young people can act on sustainable consumption. How? Enablers De Young (1996) reported that the most significant factors in changing consumption behaviour, and thus developing young people as agents of change for sustainable consumption is through developing ‘action competence’. The action competence approach for sustainable consumption emphasises the need for learning and skill development. Although sustainable consumption training programs should include modules that discuss the impacts of consumerism and sustainable consumption solutions, the most important features include encouraging youth participation, leadership development, community and organisational support, networking opportunities and follow-up activities. The action-competence approach has three priorities:
  5. 5. Raising Awareness of Appropriate Action (Knowledge) • educate young people about the impacts of their consumption patterns • educate young people about the positives of sustainable consumption • educate young people about the importance of teamwork and the power of effective communication • educate young people about their place and the contributions they can make to the global/world community Specific themes to discuss include: • ecological footprints, • life cycle analysis, • the role of the media and culture jamming, • general natural resource and sustainability issues, • discussion of key youth spending categories detailing key environmental and social issues, • options for more sustainable consumptions and disposal, and possible actions • case studies of young Australian sustainability leaders, • discussion of barriers to personal action and • planning for action at a personal and community level. Building the Capacity of Participants in Practising Such Actions • encourage young people in Australia to critically reflect on the way they, and those around them, live, behave and consume • facilitate the development of leadership skills in young participants • encourage young people to educate others about sustainable consumption through workshops, discussion groups and campaigns • empower young people to take action to improve their local environment, for example, through the provision of grants and providing appropriate access to resources Invigorating Motivation (Inspiration) • give young people a voice , and strongly involve them in the develop and implementation of programmes • encourage active citizenship and develop young people’s awareness of their rights and responsibilities to the wider community, • allow young people to set an example of sustainable living and let others follow their example. An example of this would be the establishment of awards programmes that recognise best-practice in youth-lead projects towards sustainable consumption. Conclusion Consumption may be the cause of many social and environmental problems, but it is also crucial to human survival - and this is the ultimate paradox. Our discussions today are evidence that sustainable consumption is the embodiment of a new paradigm, internationally. A key factor in its probability of success will be the empowerment of young people as agents of change.