On Thursday, June 5 World Environment Day (WED) was observed in countries across the globe including Bangladesh.
WED was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Another resolution, adopted by the General Assembly the same day, led to the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Since then, WED has been observed on June 5 every year. The UNEP puts forward a slogan for the day every year and the main program is celebrated in a specific country. This year the slogan has been “Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy” and the venue, Wellington in New Zealand.
Through the above slogan, the UNEP is asking countries, companies and communities to focus on reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, recognizing that climate change is becoming the defining issue of this era.
WED is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action. To aware the world people of reducing green house gas emission through reduced use of carbon, the UNEP has developed an eight step agenda:
Step 1: Commit to a low-carbon, sustainable event
- Commit to running a low-carbon event, and make sustainable choices for the event.
- Consider making the event carbon neutral by calculating emissions and investing in an offset project.
New Zealand, the host of WED this year, is proud to have the carboNZero programme to assist the political and business leaders, ambassadors and celebrities who have made the commitment to join their “Leaders' Climate Change Challenge”. As the challenge progresses, they will also list the leaders who have submitted a personal greenhouse gas inventory and emissions reduction plan that meets the requirements.
New Zealand's initiative is praiseworthy, but such a programme should be launched by the UNEP itself so that leaders of big powers like the USA are encouraged to follow environment-friendly behaviour including carbon reduction.
Step 2: Educate
- Have clear information and signage for event participants about your goal to make your event low-carbon and sustainable.
- Ask participants for help in meeting these goals.
- Encourage sustainable actions and consider rewarding those who take 'low-carbon' actions i.e., prizes for bike riders.
- Promote the sustainability aspects of your event and offer your knowledge to other event organizers.
- Recognize event coordinators, caterers and others who have worked to help meet sustainability goals.
- Consider ways you can inspire people to take behaviour change home with them.
All the suggested features of this educative step can be applied to any event all over the world.
Step 3: Transport
- Choose a venue that is near public transport and/or is in a central place where people can walk or bike to it easily. Organize a shuttle service if the event is in a remote area.
- Publicize the transport options available in promotional materials.
- Recognize incentives and/or encourage no-carbon or low-carbon transport to your event.
- Include public transport to an event in the ticket price.
By prescribing choosing of a suitable place/venue, the step has been made rather narrow applicable only to some special events. For everyday working, the venues cannot be chosen this way. However, “no-carbon” (walking or using bikes) or “low-carbon” transport can be applied almost everywhere.
Step 4: Energy
- Turn off lights and appliances when not in use.
- Have energy-efficient light bulbs in place.
- Use meeting rooms that have dimmers on the lights.
- Use heating/heaters efficiently.
This step on efficient use of energy is more applicable to rather careless nations like us. Bangladesh now produces energy-saving light bulbs but the finishing and longevity of these bulbs are still not good enough. A slight development of the bulbs can attract most people to buy and use these to save energy that is scarce in the country. Other points of behaviour just warrant to be careful.
Step 5: Waste reduce, reuse and recycle
- Minimize waste produced by the event by reducing the amount of paper and packing you use in, for example, conference packs or promotional materials.
- Use biodegradable packaging where possible.
- Participate in a recycling programme.
- Provide well-marked recycling bins for event attendees.
- Purchase reusable and durable products.
Going back to durable and reusable products should be the way for all. The specific problem in Bangladesh is almost no recycling, throwing everything anywhere. Our industrialists are still reluctant to attach a waste treatment plant to their industries; they are killing our rivers with the untreated effluents. Being unable to collect and recycle polythene products, we tried to do away with ploybags. The small country Singapore uses polythene almost with everything; collect used ones, recycle and produce coarser products.
Step 6: Procurement (sourcing your materials)
- Purchase products that can be recycled or are biodegradable.
- Give preference to environmentally responsible service providers.
- Provide restroom supplies e.g., hand towels and toilet paper that are made from recycled material.
- Use paper products that are not bleached with chlorine.
- Minimize the use of harmful chemicals e.g., use non-toxic cleaning products.
Using biodegradable products was once the human way of life. After doing much harm to the ecosystem with non-degradable items, we are now again crying for those. What about enhancing our jute production and the industry as a whole?
Step 7: Water
- Minimize water wastage.
- If it is your venue, repair leaking pipes and taps. If not, report leaks to venue owner.
- Like step-4 (energy), efficient use of water is of utmost necessity. To cope with the lean period crisis of fresh water, Bangladeshis need to collect much rain water both in large (lakes) and small scales (household receptacles).
Step 8: Food and beverage
- Give preference to environmentally aware service providers.
- Give preference to locally produced food and beverages with a low-carbon footprint.
- Reduce food packaging by buying in bulk.
- Use reusable serving containers, tablecloths, linen napkins, dishes and silverware.
- Donate left-over food to a local food bank or soup kitchen and compost food scraps.
Recognizing environmentally aware service providers and food and beverages with low-carbon footprints seems difficult for the general people. The consumer societies of every country can derive expertise in these rather technical matters and can help people understand this. Buying a bulk is usually for the rich people, the poor cannot afford; they buy in small amounts and pay more for the same food! This is another dimension of the vicious cycle of poverty “the poor are poor because they are poor”!
The writer is a biologist and at present PhD Researcher in NIE, Singapore.