UNEP Looks at Making Green "Cool"

NAIROBI, Kenya, February 5, 2003 (ENS) - Hoping to make sustainable living more "cool," the United Nations Environment Programme is launching a new initiative aimed at improving the image of environmentally friendly lifestyle choices. The plan, devised with the help of social scientists, was announced Tuesday at the agency's weeklong Governing Council meeting in Nairobi.

Many audiences are turned off by the judgmental tone of traditional messages about the environment, UNEP Executive-Director Klaus Toepfer told environmental ministers. Officials attending the meeting are discussing a variety of related issues, including ways that governments, industry and the public can promote sustainable consumption patterns.


UNEP Executive-Director Klaus Töpfer says UNEP will work to transform the image of sustainability. (All photos courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
"People are simply not listening, so we need to make sustainable lifestyles fashionable and 'cool,' as the young people might say," Toepfer said. "Messages from governments, exhorting people to drive their cars less or admonishing them for buying products that cause environmental damage, appear not to be working."

Studies suggest that just five percent of the public in northern hemisphere countries are embracing so called sustainable lifestyles and sustainable consumerism.

Toepfer said experts have concluded that the traditional messages from governments and green groups urging the public to adopt environmentally friendly lifestyles and purchasing habitats need to be overhauled. Many of these messages are too "guilt laden," he said, and instead of "turning people on" to the environment, are switching them off.

In a pioneering move, UNEP has enlisted psychologists and behaviorists to help market "cool" lifestyles as a way of selling clean and green products.

The partnership with social scientists and behaviorists is being carried out under UNEP's Sustainable Consumption Programme and Life Cycle Initiative, which is looking at a wide range of issues, from labeling to eco-friendly product design, to promote more environment friendly consumption.

The new program compliments initiatives, some of which are being orchestrated by UNEP, to develop a network of cleaner production centers across the globe to help reduce polluting manufacturing processes.


Members of the Global Youth Forum. Young people will be the prime targets of UNEP's new initiative to make sustainability "cool."
More than 50 young people from across the globe underlined the importance of promoting sustainable lifestyles in a statement to the environment ministers gathered in Nairobi.

"We commit to awareness raising campaigns to lifestyle change at a community level and request governments to further encourage sustainable consumption," the statement read. "We support the UNEP YouthXChange programme as an excellent example of work in this field."

The statement also provides case studies of youth organizations that have made a real difference in achieving sustainable purchasing patterns. For example, Copa Roca, a fashion company in Brazil, has made a successful, profitable business by making clothes out of recycled fabrics.

UNEP experts also cited campaigns by KIA, the Korean car manufacturer, and the European detergent industry, as two examples of selling positive, environmentally friendly consumerism and lifestyles.

KIA has a campaign in the United Kingdom which urges people not to use cars for short journeys, only long distance ones. It provides a mountain bike with every new car purchased and helps organize "walking buses." These create networks of parents who assist in escorting children to school on foot.

The European "Wash Right" campaign extols the virtues of low temperature washing by emphasizing the benefits to the clothes, as well as the energy savings achieved.

"Sustainable consumption is not about consuming less, it is about consuming differently, consuming efficiently, and having an improved quality of life," said Jacqueline Aloisi De Larderel, director of UNEP's division of technology, industry and economics, which is spearheading the new initiative.

de Larderel

Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel, UNEP Director of the Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, which will head the new initiative.
"It also means sharing between the richer and the poorer," she added. "This is not just an issue for so called rich countries. Many rapidly industrializing, developing countries, such as China, are keenly aware of the environmental threats posed by uncontrolled consumerism and the risks of not making products environmentally friendly."

Larderel said it was no coincidence that the ministerial debate on consumption patterns, scheduled for Thursday, is being led by Zhenhua Xie, the Chinese Environment Minister and Borge Brende, the Norwegian Environment Minister.

China is one of 52 countries surveyed by UNEP in collaboration with Consumers International. The survey found that many countries are trying to promote sustainable consumption through a variety of measures, including public awareness campaigns and "green taxes" that favor environmentally friendly goods.

China has factored sustainable consumption into its Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests. The law's impacts include publicity and educational programs, ecolabelling, certification of environmentally sound products, and 30 percent sales tax reductions for light, less polluting vehicles.

Bas De Leeuw, coordinator of UNEP's Sustainable Consumption Programme, said UNEP is also working with industry and businesses to make products and services more environmentally friendly way.

As an example, he cited Kluber, a leading lubricants company based in Munchen, Germany. Kluber has developed a mobile laboratory that visits industries to ensure that their machinery is operating as efficiently as possible. The benefits of this service include reductions in smoke, vibrations and noise pollution.

In Italy, the detergent supplier Allegrini uses a mobile shop to sell direct to consumers, reducing the need for separate shipping of each item.


A youth delegate speaks at a reception hosted by UNEP.
The UNEP initiative is also drawing up green procurement information materials for governments and local authorities in developed and developing countries. Using these materials can help authorities ensure that their tremendous purchasing power is used in an environmentally sound manner.

"Many developing countries are keen to buy environmentally sound products and services but do not know where to go," noted De Leeuw. "We are developing an information network and Internet service so that if they, say, want to buy environmentally friendly pens or vehicles, they know where to go."

Stressing that making people feel guilty about their lifestyles and purchasing habits is achieving only limited success, explained Toepfer. "We need to look again at how we enlist the public to reduce pollution and live in ways that cause minimal environmental damage."

"We also need to make it clear that there are real, personal, benefits to living in harmony with the planet," he added.