A consumer nation is the one where a significant portion of its population is driven by materialistic societal norms based on the intention and capacity to consume.
In most cases, the middle-class consumers drive the consumer economy. However, for a wealthy nation, its lower income classes can be designated as consumer class as well.
According to data by World Data Lab's MarketPro, Bangladesh stands at the 27th rank in the world in the long list of consumer nations.
However, the same data predicts that by 2030, Bangladesh is expected to jump 17 positions from the 28th to the 11th biggest consumer nation, with a consumer population of 85 million people and a projected total population of 180 million.
Even during a global pandemic and resulting economic shrinkage, Bangladesh, on its 50th year of independence has been achieving steady growth. Due to that growth, Bangladesh will achieve the status of a consumer nation.
Historical data indicates that as nations become more economically stable with more expendable income, consumers spend more on food, clothing, and other consumables and thus also contribute to higher levels of per capita waste generation.
This, however, is a matter of great concern for us, given that we are one of the smallest and most densely populated countries in the world.
To put this into a better perspective, each consumer in Dhaka currently generates about 20kgs of plastic waste annually. The numbers will exponentially increase nationally by 2030 with higher consumption levels. These are mostly the plastic and paper used for food and other product packaging.
It is precisely where the concept of responsible consumption comes into play. Responsible consumption is the 12th pillar of SDG which we also intend to implement together with the rest of the world by the year 2030.
And thus it can bring some positive changes in society. Firstly, it benefits the local economy as consumption drives the economy upwards. Secondly, it affects society as responsible citizens consume socially sustainable products, meaning the workers work in a safe environment, no child labour or forced labour are used, and the goods are ethically sourced.
Finally, responsible consumers will ensure the goods s/he is taking, are not harming the environment. They will want to know whether the production, transportation or its disposal reduces the impact on the environment.
A responsible consumer would want to know whether the mango juice they are purchasing is being ethically sourced, whether the mangoes are purchased in a fair trade agreement, whether the workers producing the juice are working in a safe working environment or not. This puts a lot of pressure on the entire supply chain, especially for a nation like us. Because a sustainable and ethical production may cost more with added price in several stages.
So for a positive impact, the government has to come up with certain initiatives, through proper planning and policies for both the consumers and producers.
In 2020 a high court in Bangladesh banned single-use plastic in the coastal regions and all hotels across the country. However, the policy looks unimplemented as consumers have never truly realized the importance of getting rid of single-use plastic.
Therefore, the second thing the government can do is create awareness among consumers as well as the companies. For example, it takes between 5000-15000 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef, most of which is used in the food production for cow feed. If the consumers realize this, they will be more cautious with food waste.
The companies can create positive impacts by responsible production of their goods. And this can be ensured from the very beginning of the supply chain by ethical sourcing of the raw materials.
Ensuring fair wages to farmers, suppliers, and employees can be another area where the companies should focus on. There are certain foundations and governing bodies that have started taking such initiatives.
For example, Fairtrade Textile Standard and Programme, an initiative taken by Fairtrade International to improve production processes for textile workers globally. Or Prokritee in Bangladesh, a non-profit handicraft company that practices fair trade and is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization.
The ultimate decisions are made at the consumer's level. So they need to be aware of the impact their purchase decisions can make on the entire supply chain. Consumers can drive the whole policymaking process by deciding whether or not to buy products from companies that care for the workers and the environment when they produce goods.
Through their responsible consumption, the companies will be forced to change their policies regarding sustainable supply chain and product development.
However, this responsible consumption comes with an added cost of the overall product. For an organic product, you might pay some extra money. While we are definitely more well informed than the previous generations and are much more susceptible to positive change and responsible consumption. But are we willing to pay the price?
Quazi Tafsirul Islam is a lecturer of Strategy and Human Resources at the North South University. He can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/quazitafsir/
Md Asif Hossain is a lecturer of entrepreneurship and strategy at the North South University. Researcher, Trainer, and Management Consultant. He can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/asifhossain13/