By Kanda Yaemboonruang
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and co-partners co-organized the GO4SDGs online session, Youth Empowerment: Sustainable Lifestyles and Green Campuses with 5 motivational speakers who have been empowering young people around the globe.
By 2050 the world’s population may reach a whopping 10 billion and with more people comes more demand for – food, fashion, travel, housing, and related aspirations. An increasing number of people are unable to meet basic needs while two to three billion new urban consumers and youth will receive the majority of their information from social media. In a world stretched thin for resources and under the threat of global biodiversity loss and climate change, our lifestyles decisions are putting the planet at risk.
The UN Environment Program (UNEP) has been developing tools to enable behavior change and empower youth. A new initiative GO4SDGs aims at Empowering Youth for Sustainable Lifestyles and will work with universities promoting innovation and green campuses, and expanding youth opportunities for green jobs. The session focused on the youth empowerment for sustainable lifestyles through impressive sustainable projects of the 5 motivational speakers; Boris Le Montagner from the Sustainable Lifestyles and Education Team, UNEP; Jichen Liu, a CEO of Clear Plate; Janet Sarah Neo, a Founder at We Got This; Sumeet Singh, from Massive Earth Foundation; Mari Nishimura, Associate Programme Management Officer, UNEP plus a moderator, Tunnie Srisakulchairak from the UNEP. All have experiences in working to empower youth in different ways to ensure that the planet will be taken care of by the future generations.
Knowledge not enough, aspirations to be reshaped
As a team member of the Sustainable Lifestyles and Education at UNEP, Mr. Boris Le Montagner carries out some research and he has noticed that there is relation between income and carbon emissions. From the data in 2015 the Top 1% income earner generated double amount of carbon emission (15%) compared to bottom 50% income earner (7%). “This could be unfair. It seems to continue this way. Therefore, the governments should tackle this issue,” he commented.
Also, from 2009 to 2030 the middle-class consumer spending has been increasing and is expected to increase almost by 600%, and this will affect the environment as well. It is also expected that by 2030, 88% of the next billion entrants into the middle class will be in Asia. Boris continued citing a report of targets and options for reducing lifestyle carbon footprints which shows the target of the Paris agreement on Green House Gas (GHG) emission by 2030 and 2050. The report also reveals that 2/3 of GHG emissions come from households, linking GHG emissions to our lifestyle such as how we eat, what we buy and how we move around.
From all those data, he summarized, “I would say hope can come from aspirational consumers. Now, we consider 37% of global population now represents aspirational consumers which is a good sign. In addition, the top priority of these aspirational consumers is the environment and the care of the planet. We need to put these young middle-class income earners at the center of the world living on sustainable life style. They have to know what makes a difference and what doesn’t. Finally, I would like to add that building understanding and building knowledge is good but it is not enough. It needs to be more connected to the social nodes, more valuation of aspirations and needs to re-shape aspirations. We have to make a new norm for a good life. It is pretty much how we re-designing how we want to live our life, what we want to do in our free time, how we want to spend our money etc. We could do this based on the sustainable aspiration idea.”
Boris further added that to be able to inspire others about sustainable life style, social media is crucial. People can post either pictures or videos of new sustainable lifestyles to inspire others.
Food waste to be tackled with now
Nearly 900 million people don’t have enough food to eat, and every 6 seconds a child dies of hunger. Realizing the seriousness of this, Mr. Jichen Liu, a young Chinese entrepreneur who has long been concerned about food and environmental issues founded ‘Clear Plate’, an application that rewards people for reducing food waste, helping people realize that making an impact can be easy and fun.
Jichen Liu explained how the app works, “after you finish your meal, just take a picture of your plate using the Clear Plate app, collect points once the image is recognized by the AI, and redeem gifts or meals with the points that accumulate. The food you saved can be turned into charity meals for people in need.”
Since its launch in 2018, with over 5 million users in China and some other countries, and with more than 42 million photos taken, we are now seeing the equivalence of a reduction of 1,600 tons of food waste through the app. “I think promoting sustainability with a new way and a new technique will definitely help. Last year, we saw a ten-fold growth, from 300,000 to nearly 4 million users, and if we can hit the same growth rate this year, we can definitely create an impact. Our growth relies on the effort to empower everyone to take action. Not just in China, I hope to expand this app internationally in the future,” said the CEO of Clear Plate.
Jichen Liu is also the director of Youth Vegetarian Development Fund, a project that aims to promote plant-based lifestyle and support youth veg-advocates. He won the UNDP Youth-Change-Maker Challenge, and Social Entrepreneurship Star of The Year 2019.
A simple nudge toward everyday greener decision
For anyone who wants to encourage their university to become environmentally conscious, Ms. Mari Nishimura, Associate Program Management Officer at UNEP who leads the work on Behavioral Change on Campus and Green Jobs for Youth, recommended unique and easy ways following the Little Book of Green Nudges for greening campuses.
The booklet summarizes evidence about nudges that will work best to encourage more sustainable practices among students and staff. It offers examples of nudges related to energy conservation, water conservation, sustainable diets, reduced material consumption, sustainable and reduced travel, reduced food waste, recycling, and engagement and support for change. She stated, “everyone knows, changing behavior is critical if we are to stay within our planetary boundaries. Is it being helpful if we have a system that help you automatically live sustainably? We want to have universities around the world to reduce environmental impact through behavioral change. Nudges are positive and gentle persuasion.”
Mari Nishimura continued with the next initiative, “what if this region can be involved? First, we have about thirty universities joining the group. They all are invited to interact with other hundred pilot universities around the world to share their experience. By 2025, the population in this region is expected to be 5.3 billion, the consumption rate will see an astonishing rise as well. When we nudge those people away from over consumption and towards reducing waste, we are playing a big role in fighting for the planet’s and people’s health.”
Investments for new talents to offer sustainable alternatives
As a member of the execution team at Massive Earth Foundation (MEF) which focuses on research and projects within the pollution reduction and climate change industry, as a managing partner of an investment network GoMassive, and as a key point of contact at Climate Angles Fund for sustainability startups applying for investment in India, Mr. Sumeet Sign joined the session to share experiences in driving sustainability in the investment industry.
“What we have been doing is creating an ecosystem of global organization like UNEP, large corporates, investors to promote early-stage investments in sustainable style. When we say sustainable startups, we focus on sectors like clean energy, electronic waste, consumption products, agriculture sustainability, but our primary sectors are pollution and climate tech, and that’s the goal. Our goal is to enhance focus on UN SDG12 which is responsible consumption and production,” he said. MEF believes that the Pollution Reduction industry needs research in and support for innovation to promote innovative solutions.
MEF also works with UNEP and partners such as AIT, One planet, switchasia, IGES, Mitsui Chemicals and Ministry of the Environment to launch ‘lowcarbon.earth’ which is an accelerator for low carbon lifestyle startups in the Asia Pacific. “We will work with startups who want to develop these solutions, seeing how they can be trained and pushed and probably help them to access investment,” Sumeet Sign added.
The power of social media
“For the Youth today is a skill of the livelihood in this generation. If we want to empower them with not just their interest but with tangible skill that brings about value that you can put into the marketplace and contribute for a better world. So, this is how the power of social media goes beyond influencing. It goes beyond meaningful connection. It allows us to open the door for a first-of-its-kind training into social skills and practically empower young people to take actions wherever they are,” Ms. Janet Sarah Neo spoke about her inspiration for establishing “WeGotThis”, a youth sustainability digital social advocacy movement, encouraging youth to use their voice of hope to drive peer-to-peer climate action, one post at a time.
The project aims to bring together world-renowned influencers and experts, and bold, creative, innovative and positive thinking youths to set the stage for positive change for the world. “We hope that through this, our mission is to empower voice of influences to build a better world wherever you are. That we can connect across borders, across equality, across different borders different inches and you can bring about people sharing stories about what you care about through Tik Tok, Instagram using skills like taking videos, live streaming and other skills that we may think that are the skills of the future,” said the founder of WeGotThis.
In addition, at the individual level, everyone is able to share one post and one story at the same time and still create tremendous impact. “This is wonderful and I think this is something very handy and accessible to everyone who wants to make a change. Awareness can be created, and it depends on how we communicate the messages, and how we bring about good people who can be champions and inspire another individual like paying – it - forward,” she expressed.