Sustainable consumption is not an added extra

When Hugh Weldon took to the stage at the Consumers International Summit recently, he was asked what he thought of the future of sustainable consumption.

“Sustainability is the new context,” said Weldon. “Every action we take when it comes to consumption must have sustainability at its core as must all innovation in this area” 

“We need to completely redefine our relationship with consumption to stop the runaway trains of climate breakdown and ecosystems collapse.”

Hugh Weldon at the Consumers International Summit. Credit Consumers International Summit.

The Summit, organized every four years, was themed Digital Hive, Digital Hive – Consumers at the Heart of Digital Innovation, and provided an opportunity to reflect on how digital innovation is transforming, and increasing the rate of, consumption.

Topics discussed included: “How can consumers tell if artificial intelligence is on their side?” during which participants outlined the uneasiness consumers felt interacting with artificial intelligence (AI), and its potential for positively transforming society.

“It was fascinating attending this powerful network. But what jumped out at me the most was that there wasn’t much talk of system change. I think there is a real danger in that—as long as we keep increasing our consumption—digital innovation will focus on tools to increase consumption rather than reduce it,” said Weldon.  

The event highlighted to Weldon that while innovations can help us consume less, at the moment it’s: “Focused on helping us consume more without us realising it and this isn’t about to change any time soon,” he said.

“Artificial intelligence is almost the new invisible hand driving consumption. One interesting exception I came across before the conference was a Dublin based start-up called Intouch that is working to account for the sustainability of the products it recommends with its AI algorithms. The exception proves the rule,” he added.

In a quiet, sunny corner of the campus, Weldon joined a breakout session titled: “Is Sustainability Still a Choice?” He noted: “Sustainability isn’t a flavour, a premium feature or an added extra. Sustainability is an imperative.”

“As consumers we are morally obliged to choose the most sustainable options available when we consume. Companies are equally obliged to provide transparent and actionable information about the impact of their products to consumers so that they can make an informed decision.

“But information is not enough. Consumers need tools to make sustainability information actionable, to help them track their progress over time, compare with their peers and constantly improve their score. Evocco is an example of such tool, but we need many, many more to help consumers act on sustainability.”

“I learned much about the growing consumer movement against planned obsolescence and the need for transformative change at every level of society,” said Weldon. “But I also realized that we need to work hard, to continue to tell the story of how a wonderful sustainable future could look,” he said.   

 

The Young Champions of the Earth prize, powered by Covestro, recognizes and celebrates young entrepreneurs making a difference for the environment. The winners for 2019 will be announced in September. Applications open again in January 2020. Stay tuned!