Impact Istanbul (6): A Muddled Path To Sustainable Production and Consumption

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Mini-Series: Impact Istanbul features conference highlights, round-ups, interviews, Q&A’s, and speaker profiles. It is part of our International Business Forum 2013 live coverage. Mihailo Terzic says that it’s no question that the world needs more sustainable habits of developing and consuming products. But in emerging economies, whose role is it to make this happen?

Sustainable consumption: In India, arecanut palm leaves are used to make environmentally friendly plates.

Flickr / vibrantnatureindia under Creative Commons

Sustainable consumption: In India, arecanut palm leaves are used to make environmentally friendly plates.

“It is possible to create a village, a community of people that would use green energy and live in sustainable way by using natural materials and products,” remarks Arindam Dasgupta, founder of Tambul Leaf Plates. “In fact, we are already doing it,” he says. Tambul Leaf Plates produces sustainable ecological products such as natural arecanut leaf plates that are used across India.

The International Business Forum 2013’s Workshop on Sustainable Production and Consumption was an interactive event filled with participants like Dasgupta, all looking for unique opportunities to make our production and consumption habits more sustainable, and solve environmental challenges around the globe.

Yet it’s not easy work- and the challenges are not simply in supply chains or products alone. “The main cause of the problem lies in the fact that social behavioral change is very difficult. The consumer is crucial: He is not thinking about the environmental impact of the product. He must be educated,” says Münevver Bayhan, from WWF (World Wildlife Federation) Turkey.

How can we better educate consumers? Tea Levadze from Georgia believes that NGOs can play a big role in influencing consumption patterns and educating consumers. He also says that NGOs should be rewarded (financially) by companies for helping them become more sustainable – a concept called “co-sharing”. Without that, he explains, it would be very difficult for businesses to launch new technologies or develop new and more sustainable methods of production.

Another challenge, especially in developing regions like sub-saharan Africa, is financial incentives and alignment.

“Finance is the main problem,” says Edward Obiri Ampong, one workshop participant from Ghana. He believes the problem lies more in the banking system than from a lack of initiative by green startups. Gabriel Musentekwa, a member of EMPRETEC (a UN program to promote the creation of sustainable, innovative and internationally competitive SMEs) from Zambia, and his coworkers tried to implement a system for financing sustainable businesses, however commercial banks wouldn’t sign on and it was not implemented.

Emre Tamer, from the Turkish SEDEFED says he’s experienced many of the same issues in Turkey, but ultimately he believes the government has the biggest role to play.

“It depends mostly on the local government to promote green businesses. Local governments know best the needs of the local people, some even have a database with information about which agricultural products are being produced and consumed in the local community,” he says.

While all the participants agreed that government is crucial in developing markets for sustainable production and consumption, it’s ultimately a “synergistic” relationship – between NGOs, governments, private sector, and most importantly the consumers that’s needed.

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