Rochester – Tanner Traughber – 8/28/16
I strongly believe that there is such a thing as sustainable consumption. It occurs when you are consuming only those things that are necessary for survival and natural well-being in a manner that satisfies your personal needs, the needs of everyone on the planet, and the needs of all those who have yet to enjoy this planet we call home. Currently, however, we are not on a global trend of sustainable consumption. We as a population are driving this trend of consumption for wants rather than needs and stressing the natural system around us in ways that are entirely novel. “…one-fifth of global population living in the highest-income countries account for 86 percent of private consumption expenditures…”[i] “…our 5 percent of world population is also responsible for a full 50 percent of the world’s solid waste…”ii
This un-even distribution of consumption patterns and waste generation is both astounding and hugely un-sustainable. These rampant consumption trends perpetuating from the developed nations (mainly the USA) are environmentally harmful, not to mention psychologically harmful as well, and if they manage to spread further, they could have even worse impacts on the world we live in today. It wouldn’t be fair to deny others these luxuries we currently live in, however it is even more socially and environmentally unfair to further these ideas and patterns of consumption as things that are good for ourselves and the generations to come after us. In order to combat this, we need to grow a deeper understanding and respect for the world that we live in, our place and others place in this world, and the bottom-line, true cost of our consumer behavior. We need government, organizations, industries, and all other people in the world to stand behind education of source reduction in all processes, monetary incentives and subsidies where there is room for sustainable growth in technology instead of funding outdated industries, and an overall mindset for people that consumption in excess is not healthy for themselves, those around them, or the earth.
Encouragement towards sustainable initiatives and fair practices to hold industries accountable for their entire supply chain of production of goods and pushing for higher efficiencies and less waste in consumer goods that are necessary for survival rather than luxury. The question isn’t whether or not we have the ability; rather, the question is, whether or not we will make the right choice. This choice is especially important for all growing professionals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing. As a packaging engineer, I am devastated to hear statistics stating that “Ninety nine percent of material used in production of or contained within goods in the United States becomes waste within six weeks of sale.”iii I, along with many others, am in the process of earning a degree in the very field that seems to be causing quite a wasteful impact on our planet through the various forms of product packaging. This does not make me re-consider my whole career path and start frantically deciding how I should switch my field of study into one with more direct impact. Rather, I reflect on what a wise man once said: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”iv Instead of producing small advertisement billboards (packages) that hold some kind of product and then eventually become waste, we, as packaging engineers, should be designing actual protective packaging that serves the dual purpose of better storage and shipping of items, while also having net zero environmental impact once the life of the package is over.
Fundamentally, I believe the problem lies within the flawed logic of our culture not being able to properly value the world around us. Once we start looking at our world and the people in it as having some sort of true, intrinsic value, then the dollar signs fade away and the sustainable practices are allowed to follow suit. This change in thinking starts with all of you reading this, from the ground up. Push for a new mindset and challenge the way things are currently done. No amount of change can occur unless we are all willing to pursue it. We are the all the change that we wish to see in the world around us! So let’s all get out there and make something good happen!
[i], ii, iii Tilford, Dave. “Why Consumption Matters – Sustainable Consumption.” The Consumer Society Reader. By Juliet Schor and Douglas B. Holt. New York: New, 2000. N. pag. Print. iv Mahatma Gandhi