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Psychologists and human behaviorists are being enlisted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a pioneering new initiative to save the planet.

Experts believe that the traditional messages from governments andgreen groups, urging the public to adopt environmentally-friendly life-styles and purchasinghabitats, need to be overhauled.

There is concern that many of these messages are too 'guilt-laden' and disapproving and instead of'turning people on' to the environment are switching them off.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said today: " Messages from governments, exhortingpeople to drive their cars less or admonishing them for buying products that cause environmentaldamage, appear not to be working. People are simply not listening. Making people feel guilty abouttheir life-styles and purchasing habits, is achieving only limited success".

Indeed studies indicate that only five per cent of the public in Northern countries, are embracingso-called sustainable life-styles and sustainable consumerism.

"So we need to look again at how we enlist the public to reduce pollution and live in ways that causeminimal environmental damage. We need to make sustainable life-styles fashionable and 'cool' asyoung people might say. We also need to make it clear that there are real, personal, benefits toliving in harmony with the planet, " he said.

UNEP experts today cited campaigns by KIA, the Korean car manufacturer, and the Europeandetergent industry, as two examples of selling positive, environmentally-friendly, consumerism andlife-styles.

KIA has a campaign in the United Kingdom which urges people not to use cars for short journeys,only long distance ones. It provides a mountain bike with every new car purchased and helpsorganize "walking buses". These create networks of parents who assist in escorting children toschool on foot.

The European "Wash Right" campaign extols the virtues of low temperature washing by emphasizingthe benefits to the clothes as well as the energy-saving made.

The turning to social scientists and behaviorists is being carried out under UNEP's SustainableConsumption Programme and Life Cycle Initiative which is looking at a wide range of issues, fromlabeling to eco-friendly product design, to deliver more environment-friendly consumption.

It compliments initiatives, some of which are being orchestrated by UNEP, to develop a network ofcleaner production centres across the globe to reduce polluting manufacturing processes.

Sustainable consumption patterns, and how governments, industry and the public can play their rolein delivering these, are among the key issues being discussed this week at UNEP's 22nd GoverningCouncil taking place in Nairobi, Kenya.

Over 50 young people from across the globe underlined the importance of the issue in a statementto ministers:" We commit to awareness raising campaigns to lifestyle change at a community leveland request governments to further encourage sustainable consumption. We support the UNEPYouthXChange programme as an excellent example of work in this field".

It provides case studies of youth organization's that have made a real difference in achievingsustainable purchasing patterns. For example, a fashion company in Brazil, Copa Roca, have made areal hit and a profitable business out of making clothes out of re-cycled fabrics.

Jacqueline Aloisi De Larderel, Director of UNEP's Division of Technology, Industry and Economicswhich is spearheading the new initiative, said: " Sustainable consumption is not about consumingless, it is about consuming differently, consuming efficiently, and having an improved quality of life.It also means sharing between the richer and the poorer".

"This is not just an issue for so called rich countries. Many rapidly industrializing, developingcountries, such as China, are keenly aware of the environmental threats posed by uncontrolledconsumerism and the risks of not making products environmentally-friendly".

She said it was no coincidence that the ministerial debate on consumption patterns, scheduled fortomorrow (Thursday) is being led by Zhenhua Xie, the Chinese Environment Minister and BorgeBrende, the Norwegian Environment Minister.

Indeed China is among 52 countries, surveyed by UNEP in collaboration with ConsumersInternational. It found that many countries are trying to promote sustainable consumption through avariety of measures including public awareness campaigns and 'green taxes" that favorenvironmentally-friendly goods.

China, for example, has factored sustainable consumption into its Law on the Protection ofConsumer Rights and Interests. Actions include publicity and educational programmes,ecolabelling, certification of environmentally-sound products and 30 per cent sales tax reductionsfor light, less polluting, vehicles.

Bas De Leeuw, Co-ordinator of UNEP's Sustainable Consumption Programme, said they were alsoworking with industry and businesses to make products and services more environmentally-friendlyway.

He cited Kluber, a leading lubricants company based in Munchen. It has developed a mobilelaboratory that visits industries to ensure their machinery is opertaing efficiently. Benefits includereductions in smoke, vibrations and noise pollution.

Allegrini in Italy, which supplies detergents, uses a mobile shop to sell direct to consumersreducing the need for term to travel by car.

The UNEP initiative is also drawing up 'green procurement' information material for governmentsand local authorities in developed and developing countries so that their big purchasing power isenvironmentally-sound.

"Many developing countries are keen to buy environmentally-sound products and services but donot know where to go. We are developing an information network and Internet service so that if they,say, want to buy environmentally-friendly pens or vehicles, they know where to go," said Mr DeLeeuw.

Written by: United Nations Environment Programme


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