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Policy Development for Reconfiguring Consumption and Production Patterns in the Asian Region

  • Published on February 4, 2022

Ensuring sustainable consumption and production (SCP) patterns in the Asia region is a high-priority policy issue but challenged by a number of obstacles and the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. This article argues that not only conventional policy approaches but also alternative approaches are needed in Asia to decouple socio-economic development and increases in environmental loads from people’s sense of well-being. To achieve human and planetary well-being under the situation of compressed development, four strategic courses of SCP policy are presented. These four courses are SCP policy expansion, enhanced linkage of consumption and production (CP), system transition and bottom-up approaches. Policymakers in Asia should keep these courses of action in mind and utilize opportunities, 13 of which are outlined here, to mainstream SCP. The 13 SCP opportunities, the keywords of which include among others experience, genuine wealth, local design, digitalization, infrastructure, indigenous wisdom, collaboration and challenges, indicate entry points for Asian SCP policy development in the 2020s. Finally, based on these, the authors have devised an SCP case matrix and produced 43 example SCP cases for better application of the suggested SCP policy approach in the Asian region.

This paper identified four main domains of SCP policy change needed to ensure the development and maintenance of SCP in the fast-growing Asian region. They include:

1. Expansion of SCP policy from the Environmental Policy Domain to the Socio-economic Technology Domain

The authors illustrated three phases of SCP policy goals and their growth according to the expansion of policy issues. The first phase of SCP policy (known as SCP 1.0) has conventionally focused on pollution prevention such as cleaner production and proper treatment by introducing so-called end-of-pipe measures into industrial processes. It then grew to the second phase (SCP 2.0), which entails an efficiency approach for products and services that separate environmental loads and economic growth associated with the use of energy and resources. The authors argued for the necessity of the third phase (SCP 3.0), which is the most recent phase and shifts the focus from efficiency to sufficiency. One aspect of this phase are the circular and sharing economies, which contribute to the decoupling of nonrenewable natural resources from growth in the welfare and wellbeing of society. In the meantime, societies in Asia are witnessing the emergence of innovative business models contributing to a substantial reduction of resource and energy use in the production process, as well as alternative models for meeting demands. SCP 3.0 is thus also oriented for one-planet living, employing more integrated systems thinking as shown in the third column.

In the Asian region context, the authors argued that all three types of policies are needed. In Asian developing countries where economic growth is rapid, however, all three versions are necessary. SCP 1.0 is for local Asian communities, placing importance on safe local living spaces. SCP 2.0 is for global Asian exporters of products for globalized markets. Without globalized eco-commodities, the current global economy cannot be sustained. SCP 3.0 is for Asia itself, calling for a sufficient, creative and prosperous Asia in the future without compromising sustainability

2. Strengthening Linkages between Consumption and Production

The distance between consumers and producers has become wider, as value chains of products expanded worldwide, and the traditional economic development is driven by mass production and consumption. Therefore, the linking of the subsystems of consumption and production (referred to as “CP linkage”) will play an important role. The strengthening of CP linkages focuses on four subsystems: processing and manufacturing, provision, consumption, and circulation. Five linkages of strengthening are identified:

  • Feedback from consumption to design and production which enables proper quantities to be produced and on-demand production and localized/customized production to be achieved.
  • Circularity.
  • Product use without ownership
  • Within consumption, making C2C sharing and reuse possible.
  • Industrial symbiosis, meaning resources and materials are exchanged and used between industries

3.     Systematic transition through successive changes in social practices, technology use in daily life and associated infrastructure

This includes changing social mechanisms and modes of technology used to create and provide services and new infrastructure and institutional settings. For example, the Asian region should adopt innovative transition through green future development and systematic transformation through a green development agenda.

4.     Bottom-up Approaches

The above three domains need to be triggered by local- and community-level initiatives in addition to national/international-level agenda setting. Actions, therefore, need to be incubated in “arenas” where multi-stakeholder partnerships are formulated, and various buds of co-creation grow in collaboration beyond the boundaries of the conventional stakeholders.

13 opportunities based on the above domains of actions are also proposed by the authors including:

1.     experiential or intangible consumption,

2.     measuring society’s genuine wealth instead of GDP as an economic evaluation method,

3.     environmental policy reinforcement,

4.     circular economy,

5.     new information-sharing methods to change consumers’ behaviours (e.g., tailoring environmental information of products),

6.     designing products with an emphasis on local needs,

7.     digital transformation to change CP patterns,

8.     sharing economy,

9.     improvement and development of infrastructures for SCP,

10.  promoting new rules and indigenous wisdom,

11.  enhancing cooperation, co-creation and collaborative relationships,

12.  ensuring a social safety net for people with the courage to try new consumption and production patterns, and

13.  resolving social justice issues during systematic transformation.

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