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Environment & Poverty Times No. 5

Sustainable solutions at a local level

Sustainable consumption and production

Can developing countries produce and consume sustainably? This means minimizing damage to the natural world and making use of the earth’s resources in an efficient way.

By Esther Reilink, United Nations Environment Programme

An increasing number of people from all over Africa – decision-makers, entrepreneurs and citizens – recognize that proper management of the environment is an important element in reducing poverty. Many initiatives combining poverty alleviation with safeguarding the environment have been launched. Some striking examples include:

  • A project to transform domestic waste into wealth in Kenya by employing techniques which turn waste paper into fuel briquettes and plastic waste into roof tiles1. This has not only helped reduce the amount of waste in slum areas, it has also created employment, provided shelter and improved access to energy while at the same time diminished the pressure on trees as a fuel source;
  • A business centre in a poor Ghanaian village uses solar panels to augment erratic grid power for telecommunications applications. Now people in the village can charge their mobile phones locally without having to travel about 5 kilometres to the nearest village connected to the electricity grid. In doing so, the centre has improved access to information, a key to development2;
  • The establishment of a biogas plant in Nigeria running on abattoir waste to create a source of domestic energy, lessening pollution and greenhouse gas emissions3. The biogas plant will benefit from technological support from Thailand;
  • The use of mosquito nets placed in acacia trees, in a semi-arid area of Kenya, to breed silk worms which produce high quality silk for the local market4. The silk creates a stable income, often benefiting women, far beyond what the tree would have fetched if it had been reduced to charcoal.

The above examples illustrate how innovative and sometimes surprisingly simple solutions can help to increase poor people’s incomes and access to resources throughout Africa, while at the same time reducing environmental damage. Where the initiatives include the introduction of modern technologies, they also offer an opportunity for leapfrogging – the ability for these countries to by-pass inefficient, polluting and ultimately costly phases of development and jump onto a sustainable development path.

The above projects also show the potential of resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production (SCP). In essence, SCP is aimed at using resources efficiently throughout the different stages of the life cycle of products, while also reducing any adverse environmental impacts involved. A typical life-cycle, for example, includes extraction, production, transport, consumption and waste.

When talking about SCP in the context of developing countries, especially the least-developed countries, it needs to be stressed that ‘sustainable consumption’ is not equivalent to consuming less. Indeed, it’s about consuming more sustainably, particularly for those too poor to even meet their basic needs. More efficient resource use allows poor people to meet more of their needs - or consume more – from the same resource base.

Despite the success of many of these and other such initiatives, relatively few are actually being set up elsewhere or expanded. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is therefore at present implementing a project called “Promoting Sustainable Consumption and Production in Developing Countries for Poverty Alleviation”. This aims to increase the efficient use of resources in developing countries and includes showing the benefits of stimulating resource efficiency, identifying obstacles to expanding and copying such projects in general and developing capacity to implement initiatives. The project includes focusing on key aspects of SCP applicable to developing countries, such as cost-benefit analysis, market assessments, indicators, as well as concrete demonstration projects.

The main targets for the project are policy and decision makers as well as entrepreneurs in developing countries; in addition the project will also be focusing on the international donor community. The results of the project will feed into the so-called Marrakech Process, which, by 2012, will have developed a global 10 year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production, as agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 20025.

  1. For more information, see the website of the Kayole Environment Management Association at
  2. See also GCpwfmi5HWo.
  3. The Cows to Kilowatts project won the SEED Award in 2005, Supporting Entrepreneurs for Sustainable Development, more information at
  4. Kitavi Mutua Earning a living from silk in remote Mwingi, Sunday Nation, January 14 2007.
  5. For more information, see

Marrakech Process: towards a global framework of action on sustainable consumption and production (SCP)

It is common to think of production and consumption as discrete stages in a product’s life cycle chain, with production (an industrial activity) preceding consumption (a domestic activity). But production and consumption are inextricably interwoven. All production consumes resources and energy – to produce something requires that something must be consumed.

The Marrakech Process is a global multi-stakeholder process to promote sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and to work towards a “Global Framework for Action on SCP”, the so-called 10-Year Framework of Programmes on SCP. Today, more than ever, in the context of climate change, it has become clear that our global community urgently needs to adopt more sustainable lifestyles to both reduce the use of natural resources and CO2 emissions. This is crucial in order to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in both developing and developed countries; as well as to create the “space” for the poor to meet their basic needs.


Did you know?

People do not only consume water when they drink it or take a shower. Professor J. A. Allan from King’s College London and the School of Oriental and African Studies demonstrated this by introducing the “virtual water” concept. This concept measures how water is embedded into the production and trade of food and consumer products. Behind that morning cup of coffee is a 140 litres of water used to grow, produce, package and ship the beans. That is roughly the same amount of water used by an average person daily in England for drinking and household needs. The ubiquitous hamburger needs an estimated 2,400 liter of water. Per capita, Americans consume around 6,800 litres of virtual water everyday; more than triple that of a Chinese person. Nations such as the US, Argentina and Brazil “export” billions of litres of water each year, while others like Japan, Egypt and Italy “import” billions. The concept of “virtual water” provides a different way of looking at water scarcity at the global level.