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Ecodesign, sustainability and the world’s rising temperatures

In a typical human settlement in the global South, the reports of the United Nations, World Bank and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change might not be necessary to establish scientific evidence of rising temperatures triggered by excessive greenhouse gases (GHGs). Human-induced climate threats are clear – collapse of ant colonies, visibly eroded coastscapes, biodiversity loss, and deficits of food, income and energy. The latest sign of ravaging climate troubles point to the view that decarbonisation is inevitable. High toxicity level of carbons in industrial production or consumption processes must be collectively worked on. One of the underrated but innovative approaches to do this is ecodesign. Can ecodesign tips minor pores of bigger global change solutions like the well-thought Carbon Law brilliantly being championed by some of the world’s finest Climate Scientists? Can’t ecodesign emit sustainability solutions to help the world’s rising temperatures? The ecodesign centres, comprising OVAM and Pole Eco-conception (Belgium), Effizienz-Agentur, NRW (Germany), EA (Switzerland), Ihobe (Spain) and Ecodesign Centre (UK) as well as the Auckland Council on Ecodesign and the EcoDesign Initiative in South Africa are all promoting greener ideals and actions through ecodesign.

When I first heard the term ‘ecodesign’ during a learning session in the Hungarian city of Budapest, my mind was that it might connote how land-use activities could be re-ordered to put ecosystem resources to good use. I sensed similar thought when I participated in another event on ‘Promoting eco-entrepreneurship in Africa’ under the SWITCH Africa Green programme jointly organised by EU (UNEP, UNDP and UNOPS) from 16-18, March 2017 in Kumasi. Although these were two distinct events, during each of them, I asked myself: ‘how could the 1.5oC or 2.0oC world benefit from ecodesign?’ I expected to hear fresh ideas and tools of how to geospatially virtualise and conically trim Mt Everest, watch videos of elephants in Ghana’s Mole Park, Kalahari Conservation Sites of Botswana and Namibia, retrofitted Amazon biosphere and, of course, aesthetically adorned City Hall of Stockholm. But, I was naïve. So wrong! The concept of ecodesign embraces a range of social issues and technical principles, including ‘durability’, using ‘non-toxic materials’, ‘recycling’ and ensuring product design is ‘fair and user-centered’. The later principle means that designing a product, whether in an industry or not, must be about people. This is the rationale why ecodesign often rewires social, economic and environmental dimensions of circular, linear, performance, green, sharing and sustainable economies far beyond land-use practices. In ecodesign interventions, “green walls” are not always enough because the understanding is that the real value of a product for public consumption is not seen in the virtual imagery of the product. Is it not that “the smell is good but the content may be toxic”? Decoupling the content of a product to be free of toxicity is required in the fight against climate change.

As Frank O’Connor would not completely disagree, designing ‘can influence the way people consume, use, behave … live’ in different living conditions. How solutions are expertly designed can have multiplier effects on the speed and scale at which climate troubles can be monitored and reduced through public consumption. Ecodesign is an ‘approach to designing products and services that aim to reduce environmental impacts over full life cycle, 80% of which are determined at the design state.’ Compare to conventional design, ecodesign places strong emphasis on strengthening socio-ecological systems, remanufacturing by-products and innovating renewable energy. Thus, ecodesign goes with eco-innovation to enhance eco-efficiency and resource sustainability, which are at the heart of green economy. In the manufacturing sector, ecodesign uses the right mix of ingredients to come out with consumable or material goods that are not harmful to humans and the environment and, at the same time, generate profits. How sure are we about the quality of the food we eat, sunglass, ear ring, football jersey, and phone handsets? Is the bed or kettle we use carbon-compensated? Is the footwear or e-waste toxic-free? Keeping down atmospheric temperature from escalating suggests that ecodesigning must lead to decoupling production systems or stopping CO2 emitted through consumerism not to interrupt the earth’s climate systems.

Many people tend to confuse ecodesign with geodesign. It is important to get this right. These two approaches are not the same in practice. Theoretically, both approaches recognise sustainability as a common purpose for benchmarking and monitoring the interactions of product, people and planet. That is why industrially ecodesigning a product for the arctic region varies from designing same for the deserts or savannas. Yet, in all regions, ecodesign aims to build resilience in whatever way possible to contribute to averting the earth’s climate systems from crossing “critical tipping point”. Accordingly, ecodesign needs to inform resource utilisation, manufacturing, lifestyles and services. This includes ensuring that ecodesigning a product is preceded by researching real needs of communities, groups and institutions to work out greener solutions that are not inimical to the very goal for which the solutions are formed. Children might be disadvantaged if those who design products for them do not consult them or their parents in the product design processes.

The meaning is that ecodesign is eco-inclusive and promotes sustainable consumption of both renewable and non-renewable resources to satisfy full needs of humans without damaging the natural environments. It is applicable in conserving biodiversity, aviation, mining, ecoparks, fishing/farming, railway, chemical industry and cement production. What about built environment, music and film industries? Ecodesign encourages greener labels and eco-certification of products from forest, sea, desert or solar origins – utilising less forest product equals less deforestation hence less climate risks. By this, ecodesign engages as many actors and customers as possible in the processes of production, distribution and consumption that allow the actors to minimise product impacts on ecosystem destruction. Instead of transporting 500,000 tonnes of food across three megacities, using 4.5 barrels of fossil fuels, ecopackaging the food can increase the total volume of the food in transit by 45%. Additional use of 2.25 barrels is avoided and CO2e is cut by 1.7% margin. In this case, the benefits of ecodesign are not only reflected in lowering GHGs but also minimizing material flows, saving energy, reducing cost and improving incomes.

Like industrial energy systems, ecodesign can be incorporated into planning, upgrading and rebuilding cities for the future – relevant approach to invest in. Urban population is not going to decline in years to come. Urban spaces will continue to be squeezed. More people will convert carbon-absorbing spaces and species to make living and, in the end, generate extra CO2. Urban waste in all its forms (solid, liquid, e-waste, etc.) will affect quality of urban lives and increase severity of climate risks like foods. What can ecodesign do in this situation? Ecodesign does not seek to provide every remedy in complex situations of city congestion, resource scarcity and climate change but to play a part in creating comfort, livability and sustainability. The critical need to stop climate troubles is a strong basis to influence climate knowledge, governance and policy of why climate-oriented ecodesign has to be financed and supported alongside more scientifically convincing and comprehensive solutions such as the Carbon Law. This is extremely important if sustainable decarbonisation is to be achieved.


Can climate solutions support food justice and sustainability?

Sustainability is now the desire of all nations. Yet, climate disruption is powerfully shifting path from sustainable life-choice of food, water and energy. Consequently, the overpopulating world is witnessing food justice movements more than the conventional social justice movements known previously. Has hunger not motivated such movements?
seedwheelEveryone eats. Besides, eating to nourish human body, food spawns social peace to curtail youth radicalisation, aggression, fear and civil distortions like bloody wars as well as ills related to malnutrition. For millions of smallholder farmers involved in cultivating food, malnutrition and starvation are still self-troubling. ‘Starvation is the characteristics of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristics of there not enough food to eat’[1].

Scanning hunger trends and futures 
Today, hunger and starvation situations are harsh but not worse as compared to 18th century. The 2016 Global Hunger Index[2] (GHI) uses four broad technical indicators namely undernourishment; child stunting; child wasting; and child mortality for 118 countries to demonstrate that the level of hunger is declining. The GHI score for developing countries had reduced from 30.0 per cent in 2000 to 21.3 per cent in 2016. The concern, however, is that proactive effort is required if goal #2 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to be achieved.seedfjb

The global community is in crucial times to collectively get the zero hunger job done by 2030. There is no time to wait. This is because there are approximately 800 million – 1.02 billion people[3] who fall short of the ‘2100 kcal per day’[4]. On the basis of what the World Food Programme describes as ‘hidden hunger’[5], the malnourished population is arguably over 2.5 billion. And, if the ‘sustainable world scenario’ is not realised, then 13-25% of children can become ‘undernourished’ by 2050 – the period 9 billion people will likely inhabit the planet[6].

Is climate change not disrupting the earth’s resource systems to trick people into hunger trap? Apart from climate uncertainties, new causes of hunger have mushroomed in complex forms and scales, including digital violence, in the global South where there is high digital illiteracy.

International alliance against hunger
seedinterThe impact of climate-induced food insecurity is unevenly affecting all societies but developing economies are the hardest hit. Food inadequacies triggered the formation of global alliances and calls for innovative action from Stockholm 1972 — Rio 1992[6] to raise ‘the levels of nutrition’ (FAO, 1992) and, during the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the delegates came up with voluntary commitments to achieve food security. What about the happenings at Marrakech COP22 and Paris 2015?

Nexus of food justice, security and rights
The 1996 World Food Summit defines food security as a condition ‘when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’. How to feed ‘all people, at all times’ to fulfill this vision of global food agenda is a challenge. Many households, governments, NGOs and faith-based organisations are not able to feed all their people through mainstream food interventions. The indications are clear that actors can progress faster towards zero hunger by greenly funding and implementing Food Justice Bill (FJB). Some societies have recognised food justice as an assuring antidote to meristematically deliver food needs to all. Indices of food justice activisms or research activities had occurred in developed and emerging countries, including UK by FoodEthicsCouncil, Kenya by FoodFirst, Guatemala by Oxfam International, Ethiopia and India by IDS that stimulated the enactment of food justice-related instruments like Food Security Bill (FSB[7]). Food justice is  at the centre of the UN programme on Zero Hunger Challenge and the University of Sheffield is one of a few universities that runs an academic programme on food justice.

Literally, the meaning of FJB is not the same as Food Security Strategy (FSS) or Food Security Bill (FSB). From a new sustainability science context, FJB is distinctively a subset of FSS/FSB and best compares to the Right to Food. Most countries have been ‘slow in putting’ the latter into practice as a ‘human right’ (FAO, 2011: xiii). FJB has countless benefits for humans and nature. One of them is the elastic propensity to move food issues from the boundaries of ‘Rights’ to ‘Human Values’ reflecting the sense that, at a given time, a person may genuinely be incapable to feed him or herself due to socio-legally defined limitations. Is it not that ‘Rights’ go with ‘Responsibilities’? Fulfilling responsibilities in order to access food to eat is certainly beyond ‘all persons’ and, as such, the global agendas for zeroing hunger will be incomplete if they do not strategically build-in FJB. In classified war zones, it may be prudent to encourage governments to adopt ‘Right to Food’ in tackling hunger and malnutrition. In migrants’ situation, FJB does not promote ‘rights’ as priority. Instead, it encourages human values, which implies that migrants have micro-spaces to explore access to food at interpersonal, corporate and charity levels. Also, when it comes to the destruction of 0.5ha plot of food crops by adverse climate changes, this can be dealt with using climate solutions nested with human values — having spaces for disabilities and capacity inequalities.

Is integrated climate solution not needed?SDGs #2
Ideally, climate solutions should not exclude soft solutions of which human values are integral for fostering sustainability base for a society. The integration of human values into the formulation of climate solutions helps to facilitate fixing of complicated hunger ills alongside resolving conflicts and other sustainability challenges. Thus, integrated climate solutions mean producing and manufacturing of various foods through cleaner, greener and sustainable processes that rebuild resilience of the biosphere and avert pollution of both the hydrosphere and the atmosphere. This suggests that global governing institutions, donors and national governments ought to sufficiently invest in decarbonising economy, researching low-carbon knowledge system, sustainably conserving biodiversity, and funding ‘appropriate sustainable agricultural technology to deliver significant yield increases on small farms in developing countries’[8]. More importantly, reframing and co-creating local and international food policies to embrace FBJ can rapidly tip significant changes in social-ecological systems to aid zeroing of hunger among restricted and inactive persons, including prisoners, children, mentally-challenged persons and pregnant women living in marginalised conditions. A universal FJB will keep off the food saddle on the neck of central governments to working together with families, communities, churches and traditional authorities. It has high potential to globally force and move people out of chronic hunger and malnutrition. The UN SDGs will win big and society will be safer and sustainable.


Further readings
[1] Sen A., 1981. Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.
[2]von Grebmer, K.; Bernstein, J.; Nabarro, D.; Prasai, N.; Amin, S.; Yohannes, Y.; Sonntag, A.; Patterson, F.; Towey, O. and Thompson, J., 2016. 2016 Global Hunger Index: getting to zero hunger. Bonn, Washington, DC, and Dublin: Welthungerhilfe, International Food Policy Research Institute, and Concern Worldwide.
[3] FAO, 2011. Right to food: making it happens. Progress and lessons learned through implementation. FAO, Rome.
[4] FAO, IFAD and WFP, 2015. The state of food insecurity in the world 2015. Meeting the 2015 International Hunger Targets: Taking Stock of Uneven Progress.  FAO, Rome.
[5] World Food Programme, 2007. World hunger series 2007: hunger and health. Earthscan: London.
[6]Pinter, L., 2016. Envisioning the transition to a green industry. A paper presented at the UNIDO/Central European University, Budapest, Hungary July 13. 2016.
[7] FAO, 1 992. Sustainable development and the environment: FAO policies and actions, Stockholm 1972-Rio 1992. FAO, Rome.
[8] The FSS is a large-system framework that deals with the past, current and future food security issues concerning an entire population while the FJB focuses on current food requirements of a particular underserved people constituting a fraction of a larger society at a time.
[9] Stockholm Memorandum, 2011. Tipping the scales towards sustainability. 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on ‘global sustainability: transforming the world in an era of global change’. 16-19 May 2011, Sweden.

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