What does consumption need to look like in 2030? How do we transform how we live, work and do business? At a workshop with our Partners at Bioregional, we explored the challenges of overconsumption in the UK through the lens of Sustainable Development Goal 12 on a bright morning in November.

The event was the first in a series of activities that will see UKSSD collaborate with Partners to explore some of the complex, sticky issues facing the UK, building on the evidence from Measuring up. During the morning, stakeholders from business, charities, government and academia explored three basic needs that also present overconsumption challenges in the UK – food, water and clothing.

In a lively and dynamic workshop, the team at Bioregional helped attendees explore challenges related to our consumption of food, water or clothing in the UK, unpick a specific issue in greater detail and identify opportunities for change. With ideas ranging from legislation and taxation, to consumer communications, all the discussions touched on common issues.   

1. Business knows it needs to change but doesn’t have all the answers

Most responsible businesses are aware that existing practices which damage the environment or impact on human health are not sustainable. They know that change is needed. But where and how to do this requires ambition, innovation and a willingness to take risks. Incremental changes are being made, but the sort of transformative action needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is more testing. These sorts of actions need market and industry shifts that will require much more pre-competitive, joined-up collaborative working within and between sectors.

2. Someone is always going to lose-out

Creating systemic change will always be difficult because someone will always lose out. If a business has to invest in new product development, or stop selling certain items, if a group of households has to pay more because something is ethical or sustainable. There will always be losers, but we must find ways to compensate that by creating value and benefit in other ways, or by changing mindsets.

3. Public awareness and consumer engagement is key

Changing entrenched behaviours will always be difficult. The group discussions all identified that communicating the right information to consumers is critical, whether it was how a material can be recycled or the sugar content in a meal. Making something attractive, affordable and easy to understand is the first step to changing the behaviours that are reinforcing consumption patterns we’re experiencing in the UK.

4. We risk leaving people behind

As is often the case, it’s easy to understand what would work for us personally, it’s harder to understand what might work for those whose voices are not in the room. For both groups working on food, malnutrition, obesity and food insecurity were central to the challenges they discussed. But how do we address damaging patterns in our food system when so many people in the UK, and globally, are under-consuming? This is why the SDGs are vital if we want to address the complex challenges we face in a way that doesn’t leave anyone behind.

At the end of the session participants were asked what they, their organisation, their industry and the Government should do to address the challenges they discussed. From working with local schools to funding research, everyone had an idea of what needs to happen next but the key will be taking the ideas forward with those who have the power to influence and create change quickly. That’s something UKSSD can do to continue to drive action on the SDGs.

To find out more about Bioregional’s work visit their website.

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