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Green Consumption Rights Should Be Incorporated Into International Law

Jinfeng Zhou
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The combination of little corporate green responsibility and insufficiently empowered citizens is causing a global ecological catastrophe. International law must clarify the green consumption rights of consumers and the green responsibilities of corporations.

Green Consumption, also known as Sustainable Consumption, starts from meeting the needs of ecological and environmental protection, achieving harmony between humanity and nature, and promoting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is a general term for all kinds of consumption behaviors and ways, with maintaining healthy and ecological environment protection as the primary connotation. The rights and interests of consumers include the rights of “green consumption”. However, there is no clear regulation in this regard. We call for an explicit provision on the “Green Consumption Right” in international law.

We call for an explicit provision on the “Green Consumption Right” in international law.

Citizens are becoming more conscious of green consumption as ecological civilization advances. Yet, merchants often do not provide them with the option to choose green consumption. For example, the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) Reduce & Reuse Plastic Working Group has been conducting research and promotion for the past five years. Simultaneously, the lack of transparent laws and regulations on the environmental responsibilities of enterprises has resulted in inaction and a large amount of unnecessary waste. 

Examples include but are not limited to when consumers go to coffee shops or instant food chains with their own mugs, stores refuse to use them, and insist on providing throwaway cups. When ordering take-out meals online, no matter if the consumer needs one-time-use utensils or not, their orders usually turn out to be delivered with 1-2 pairs of chopsticks and other unnecessary disposable utensils. 

CBCGDF has always been a strong advocate of ecological civilization, green consumption, and human-based solutions (HBs). The human-based solution is to center ‘I’ and allow every person to tackle climate change and the biodiversity crisis. Therefore, since humans are the root of all problems, we are the only solution to them. As a result, the ‘I’ has the power to turn back the tide on the biodiversity and climate crises. 

For example, more and more companies are willing to respect the right of green consumption and start to offer green options because consumers are proposing to offer reusable cups voluntarily. Another example is that we have worked with Chinese civil society and have sued China’s three major food delivery platforms, Baidu, Meituan, and Ele.me, for causing a lot of waste pollution while failing to assume the appropriate social duty. 

Many Chinese citizens prefer to order at home or bring their cutlery with them, eliminating the need for disposable chopsticks. However, as of 24 August 2017, none of China’s five major food delivery platforms gave consumers the option of “no chopsticks”. According to big data, in July 2017, the number of daily takeout orders on one platform exceeded 13 million. Suppose a conservative consumption estimate of 1.7 pairs of chopsticks wasted per order is taken. In that case, the daily usage of chopsticks on the Meituan takeaway platform alone might be as high as 20 million pairs. This is an unnecessary waste. Given this, CBCGDF launched the Walk Your Chopstick campaign at the end of July 2017. It aims to encourage merchants to respect the green consumption rights of consumers and incorporate green corporate social responsibility.

Why should green consumption rights and corporate green responsibility be promoted?

Examples abound of unnecessary waste of resources due to the lack of corporate green responsibility and consumers’ empowerment of green consumption, which is causing a global ecological catastrophe. CBCGDF has encountered many such cases, which reflect the continuous improvement of social development. There is a need for international law that clarifies consumers’ green consumption rights and their corporations’ “green responsibilities”. The reasons are as follows: 

First and foremost, the international legal framework of environmental law is insufficiently flawless to meet the needs of the new era of ecological civilization. Environmental conservation necessitates the cooperation of all countries on a global scale, although each country’s conditions are unique. As a result, adopting the principle of uniform application is a reasonable approach. The current rules and regulations are insufficient to address the needs of environmental protection in our present social lives, particularly those of public environmental governance. On the one hand, there is no clear legal right to green consumption. It just states that citizens have an obligation to protect the environment. It only stipulates the obligation of environmental protection, and citizens should consciously live a frugal and low-carbon life. These all depend solely on the public’s “consciousness”. If there is no institutional guarantee of rights, there is still a lack of adequate legal guarantee only by self-consciousness. 

The current rules and regulations are insufficient to address the needs of environmental protection in our present social lives.

Second, clarifying consumers’ right to green consumption and enterprises’ green responsibility in the law is required by the general trend of ecological civilization construction and green development. It is a must to ensure consumers be given the green consumption option. Corporations must adhere to green responsibility, and it needs to be clearly stipulated in international law. 

Third, the lack of clear regulations on green consumption rights and green responsibilities is not commensurate with the increasing awareness of ecological civilization among global citizens. With the concept of ecological civilization construction and green development deeply rooted in the hearts of the people, an increasing number of countries have begun to practice green consumption behavior to save resources and protect the environment, such as advocating frugality, reducing waste, choosing efficient, environmentally friendly products and services, and reducing the use of resources. 

Therefore, it is critical to support the development of a simple, moderate, green, and low-carbon lifestyle in all areas of society, as well as to resist the extravagance and waste of businesses and their inaction in environmental and social responsibility. We propose that Green Consumption Rights be written into international law and become a new concept in the post-SDGs age.