Coronavirus and the Path Towards Responsible Consumption

Silas Lee ⟩ CMO

For many Canadians right now, the scale of the coronavirus calls to mind the Great Depression or the 2008 financial crisis—events that forever reshaped society. The current crisis has changed the way we travel and interact with people, the level of surveil- lance and security we are accustomed to, and even the way we practice hygiene. Will touch become taboo? What will become of sports stadiums? Will nations stay closed? Masks have become mandatory and are no longer a mere fashion accessory, plastic utensils are back, and reusable cups are banned from Starbucks. Although these measures are designed to keep us safe, it underscores the relationship between consumption and waste: consumption tends to create waste, which ends up in landfills and pollutes the environment. 

What can we do? Moments of crisis also present opportunities: increased use of flexible technology; a revived appreciation for the outdoors and urgency to preserve our beautiful parks; and the chance to adjust to a higher, more sustainable quality of life by consuming responsibly (and I’m not just referring to the whiskey glass in your hand). Defined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, responsible consumption is about doing more and better with less. It is also about increasing resource efficiency, promoting sustainable lifestyles, and decoupling consumption and environmental degradation. Simple acts include bringing reusable utensils when ordering take-out, using a cloth mask, and reusing plastic bags where reusable bags are not accepted. While we face some restrictions from businesses, we should make a collective effort to attain both a hygienic and sustainable lifestyle.

The coronavirus has changed society as we know it, but it doesn’t have to be for the worse. The current crisis is an opportunity for a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet. There is a trade-off we consistently face: humans have unlimited needs while the planet has limited capacity to satisfy them. We must try to understand and appreciate the limits to which humans can push nature before the impact is irreversible, and those limits must be reflected in our consumption patterns. Let’s get creative by finding ways to preserve the planet and live a better, safer, and happier life.

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