The Importance of Sustainable Consumption

During Global Goals week, I attended a session of the UN Global Compact’s programming for business leaders surrounding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), called Ocean Hope Spots: A discussion on Marine Protected Areas. This was presented by ASU Global Features, and featured marine activists Sylvia Earle, Lance Morgan, and Aulani Wilhelm, and was moderated by Jessie Kaull.

The panel opened by discussing one of the most important issues that the oceans face: overconsumption. By consuming an exponentially growing amount of fish, we are removing important players from the complex ecosystems in the oceans, resulting in long-term impacts we can’t accurately predict. Furthermore, the oceans are not an isolated part of the planet—all of the systems on Earth interact and cause changes in one another, meaning that unprecedented change in the oceans can—and will—lead to changes on land.

Then, the panel discussed how resolving this issue will need to be as quick-acting as the issue itself. Sylvia Earle set the tone by explaining that in order to make our consumption of fish and other marine products sustainable, we need to take a bold step and ban industrial fishing. This is a very controversial statement for business owners, who have a strong incentive to continue their practice as is, but the science surrounding sustainable consumption unequivocally supports Earle’s proposed solution. Lance Morgan also discussed how the progress we make toward sustainability must be as exponential as the harmful practices have been, and how we need to not only protect the wildlife that survive today, but also restore the systems and species that have been damaged or depleted by our consumption.

The solutions for this issue must also be as interconnected and complex as the issue itself. One example of this is how important collaboration will be in protecting the oceans. In order to curb consumption of marine products, we’ll need to see close cooperation and agreements between nation-states, UN agencies, business leaders, academic think tanks, non-profits, and individuals. We’ll need to revisit important international agreements such as the industrial fishing regulations in the high seas, (ocean water not controlled by any one nation), and international marine trafficking protocol to protect endangered species. Without a myriad of smaller regulatory systems working in regional and global agreement, we won’t be able to collectively address our consumption.

This interconnectedness also manifests itself in the SDGs. As Earle said, the Global Goals bring local actions together and shows how small actions compound when communities worldwide work together toward a common goal. We cannot meet one goal on it’s own, but rather we meet the goals by weaving them together with local actions. In this example, by seeking sustainable consumption of marine products by local fishermen, we are moving forward to achieve  Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, Goal 13: Climate Action, and Goal 14: Life Below Water.

Aulani Wilhelm also discussed the importance of scale in this issue. Individuals can make lasting change through advocacy, but they’re most effective when the change goes beyond that individual and becomes systemic. As a community leader, she helped create the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and World Heritage site, one of the largest protected sites in the world. About a year and a half ago, I had the honor of hearing her speak about this achievement to a crowd of young people like myself who had received free tickets to attend the Goldman Environmental Prize award ceremony, an event that recognizes environmental leaders across the world. That event was crucial in inspiring me to pursue a career in environmental policy, and part of why I applied to become UNA-USA’s Ambassador for Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. I hope that, like that crowd of young people that Wilhelm inspired that night, the many community leaders who participated in Global Goals week will be equally inspired to take on this work, and achieve the Global Goals.

Louise Michel serves as a 2020-2021 UNA-USA Global Goals Ambassador for SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.