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[Feature] [20 Must-know GEI] 17. Can we consume in an environmentally friendly way?

by Eco Generation | 13-10-2016 17:53 Comments 0 recommendations 0

20 Must Know Series-Title

17. Can we consume in an environmentally friendly way?

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1. The relationship between consumption and the environment: Are greenhouse gases emitted throughout the process I get products? 

     Since the Industrial Revolution, the global economy has grown, more products have been manufactured, income levels have increased, and consumers have purchased more products. Active production activities lead to active consumption, and it goes the other way around, too. Diversified consumption has enabled us to get food imported from every corner of the globe and even unseasonal foods. However, did you know that these products emit greenhouse gases, accelerating global warming, during the process toward getting to you due to the use of fossil fuels?

     Throughout the various processes from production to ultimate consumption, products generate greenhouse gases. Based on the carbon label of a can of soda, its carbon dioxide emissions are about 73g in the resource and first raw material production processes, 23g in the manufacturing process, and 2g in the disposal process (98g in total). Besides, a bottle of water (500ml), tofu (300g), and body wash produce 86g, 249g, and 730g of greenhouse gas from manufacturing to disposal, respectively. Electronic products we frequently use go through more production processes:  a cell phone produces about 13,200g, a television 381,110g, and a washing machine drum 450,100g of carbon dioxide, which is relatively more than other products (Carbon Labelling webpage, 2015). That is, in order to offset carbon dioxide emissions during the manufacturing process of a washing machine drum, around 68 trees absorbing 6.6kg of carbon dioxide a year on average are required (National Institute of Forest Science, 2013). As such, products in our daily lives have more and significant effects on the environment than we thought.
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     Tim Lang, a British environmentalist, conceived the concept of 'food miles' in 1994 to present environmental burdens by transported volume from production to final consumption (UNEP, 2013). According to this, the food miles of 5kg of tangerines produced in Jeju Island is 2.96t/km, while 5kg oranges produced in California are 55,635t/km. Greenhouse gas emissions by the former are 357g, while the latter are 2,590g. This means oranges produced in far-off countries such as the US emit more greenhouse gas (2,233g) than tangerines produced in nearby places to get to the dinner table in Asian countries. This is similar to the amount emitted by watching TV for 56 hours (as of 2009). Moreover, strawberries, watermelons, oriental melons, melons, tomatoes, and other fruits that we can always enjoy also emit a lot of greenhouse gas through the process of consumption. As raw materials used for vinyl-covered greenhouse heating systems and fertilizers are all from oil, farming regardless of the season entails greenhouse gas emissions (as of 2009). 

2. How can we consume in an environmentally-friendly way?

     As consuming is inevitable in our daily lives, we need to consider the environment in our consumption, instead of thinking that consumption and the environment are at odds. For ideal consumption considering the environment, the concept of 'green consumption' has emerged. Green consumption is not just purchasing environmentally-friendly products. Even environmentally-friendly products have a significant impact on the environment when consumed a great deal. The amount of consumption also needs to be taken into account. In order to recognize and reduce environmental problems, various efforts and responsible actions have been made at both the national and community levels. 

1) Production and transportation of products and consumption.
     Korea has implemented the Framework Act on Low Carbon Green Growth and defined green products as products that minimize the input of energy and resources and emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants. In other words, green products minimize greenhouse gases and pollutants emitted not only during use, but also during the production and transportation process.  However, it is not easy for ordinary consumers to know how much their products have emitted greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide during the process of production and transportation. For this reason, different countries, including Korea, have implemented a 'Carbon Labelling System' to help wise consumption. 

2) Green consumption activities by consumers.
     Green consumption activities can be conducted with your neighbors in community units by pursuing a green lifestyle. Although not widespread yet, many organizations that distribute and sell green products for environmentally-friendly (green) consumption and encourage consumers to take part in training and activities on this have emerged recently.

3. What we can do as green consumers.

     Many countries, including Korea, have operated various systems and programs for green products and green consumption at the public and private levels. What can we do at the individual level? 

• Avoid excessively packaged products: Excessive packaging not only wastes raw materials for packaging, but also creates more waste and environmental pollution. As such, we need to buy less excessively packaged products consciously.
• Buy seasonal foods: As it requires a lot of energy to produce and store in vinyl-covered greenhouses, we need to consume more seasonal foods to protect the environment. 
• Use local foods: Fruits and vegetables grown on nearby farms produce less carbon dioxide as they do not go through complicated logistics processes. Additionally, producers can spend less, while consumers can enjoy fresher foods. 
• Reduce unnecessary consumption: Most of all, the most effective way for the environment is to reduce unnecessary consumption and consume 'only what you need.' Even green consumption activities can't solve fundamental problems without reducing consumption itself. 

     After all, these activities are based on us being autonomous consumers rather than passive consumers. By restraining unnecessary consumption and practicing environmentally-friendly green consumption, we can become genuine consumers caring for the environment.

[Learn More!]

Consumerism of the Future (Angela Royston, 2010)
This book shows the relationship among consumption, the environment and the future, and the impacts of careless consumption on the environment.

Our Ecological Footprint (Mathis Wackernagel, et al. 2006)
This book explains the ecological footprint that humans leave in nature by consuming resources.

Cranks (documentary, released in 2015)
This documentary premiered at the 12th Green Film Festival in Seoul. It suggests alternatives to our culture of consuming that has caused environmental degradation.

Script by : Prof. Yoon, Sun-jin's Environment & Energy Lab
                Seoul National University
Illustration by : Kim, Jeong-kyeom


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