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By John Fox




We are all familiar with the problems: the gap between rich and poor, the loss of biodiversity, climate change, the decline in natural resources, pollution of the air, water and soil, and acres of refuse. It is clear that the world is not working in a way that can be sustained in the long term.


Accepting this situation, the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 launched “Agenda 21”. This is a program to ensure “sustainable development”, that is to say development that meets the needs of the present generation without comprising the needs of future generations.


If everyone on Earth used as many resources as we do in Western Europe, we would eventually need three planets to satisfy humanity. Therefore, if the human race is to survive we must choose goods and services that consume less energy and preserve natural resources. This would mean opting for quality and sustainability and avoiding quantity and excess.

The Johannesburg World Summit in 2002 required us all to become “responsible consumers”. This means adopting responsible patterns of consumption alongside sustainable modes of production. Sustainable living is all about consuming better by using less energy and natural resources.

For instance, when shopping, we should ask: Was this product traded fairly? Did its manufacture damage the environment? Did its manufacture deplete natural resources? Was this product manufactured under decent working conditions? How long will it last? Can it be recycled?


A product whose sales price reflects these criteria may well be more expensive than its competitors. However, the money that would be saved in buying a cheaper product today may have to be paid back later “with interest” in its impact on the planet.




Sooner or later, we are all going to be required to adopt responsible patterns of consumption. Each national government and local government is now beginning to have its own “Agenda 21” program. Every city, town and commune in Switzerland has its own “Agenda 21” representative. The Canton of Geneva, for instance, has produced a dossier of information sheets designed to educate people into adopting sustainable models of behavior. This dossier, entitled “The Geneva Guide to Sustainable Living”, is available free of charge in English from:


Service cantonal du développement durable

18bis, Quai Ernest Ansermet

1205 Genève

022 388 19 40



For the Canton of Vaud: www.vd.ch/durable