The top 5 lifestyle stories in 2017

The sustainability movement grew among consumers this year, who are putting increasing pressure on businesses from food manufacturers to fashion houses.

A woman shopping online
Online shopping has changed the way we shop—how has it impacted the environment? Image: Elaine Smith, CC 1.0

Consumers care. In 2017, buyers around the world are thinking about the impact of their purchases. The global fashion industry made significant pledges to tackle its waste problem; and in Singapore and Malaysia, the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) launched a successful palm oil campaign.

1. Consumers care about sustainable palm oil

International conservation non-government organisation WWF caused a buzz this year when it launched a Singapore and Malaysia-focused Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard.

Out of 47 companies identified, 70 per cent of them did not disclose information related to their palm oil sourcing practices, including drink maker Fraser and Neave (F&N), biscuit maker Khong Guan, and restaurant chains Secret Recipe and Tung Lok Group.

Within the nine hours’ following the report’s publication, 13 of the firms with poor disclosure practices received a massive 7,700 emails about the topic, in an unmissable signal that consumers care about sustainable palm oil. Six of the 10 Singapore companis in the survey said they did not think customers cared about the type of palm oil used, and a number have since pledged to work towards using more sustainable palm oil. 

2. Fashion cleans up nice 

One garbage truck’s worth of textiles is thrown away every minute, stated a new report by luxury brand Stella McCartney and non-profit Ella MacArthur, which called on the fashion industry to cut waste and move towards more circular economy solutions.

Another study that made headlines around the world was the discovery of plastic microfibres in tap water around the world, sparking alarm and concern. Scientists are still working to trace the source of contamination, but “fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets” have been pointed to as one ‘obvious source’.

Meanwhile more global brands are committing to stamping out abuses and deforestation in their supply chains, including lingerie maker Victoria’s Secret and designer brand Ralph Lauren, as consumers begin to demand more transparency from brands.

3. Clicking with a conscience?

A special report by Eco-Business on how e-commerce is changing the way people live and shopshowed that almost half, 48 per cent, of consumers thought about the social and environmental impact of their purchase—an encouraging sign, although with lots of room for improvement.

Single’s Day alone—an online shopping bonanza with deeply discounted products held every November 11—racked up $25 billion in orders-imagine the millions of packages that were shipped out to meet demand. E-commerce sites now make it possible for consumers to have what they want, when they want—for the lowest price possible.

A number of e-commerce companies such as Alibaba and Amazon are taking steps in the right direction to minimise their carbon footprint, but many others have been mum on the topic. This festive season, Eco-Business explores the complex intersection of e-commerce and sustainability here

4. The driving Dutchman

Electric vehicles continue to rise in popularity among consumers and carmarkers such as Volvo sent a signal to the market this year by promising that starting in 2019, every car it launches will at least be partially electricity powered. But “range anxiety”, or the fear of the vehicle running out of charge, lingers among consumers. 

That is why plucky 30-year old Wiebe Wakker made headlines around the world this year for driving across the world in his electric car on a project called Plug Me In. His journey—which started in the Netherlands and will end in Australia—sets out to debunk the myth that electric vehicles cannot match fossil fuel powered cars in terms of range.

The Dutchman is relying on the kindness of strangers for a food, lodging and power. Wakker told Eco-Business that the biggest surprise was his reception in Iran. Through Instagram, he received more than 100 offers for accommodation. He said: “To this day, I haven’t had so many offers.”

5. Life in plastic, not so fantastic

Public outcry against the use of plastic continues to get louder as new statistics about the state of plastic pollution come to light. Just 10 of the world’s rivers carry 90 per cent of plastic pollution into the ocean, for instance.

The UN passed a non-legally binding treaty to put an end to the scourge of ocean plastics, Unilever announced a plastic-sachet recycling factory in Indonesia, and the European Union is exploring solutions to plastic pollution in rivers. Closer to home, a non-governmental organisation kicked off an incentive scheme to encourage consumers to forgo plastic use and supermarkets explore a possible fee for plastic bags, which are now currently given out free with purchases.

This story is part of our Year in Review series, which looks at the top stories that shaped the business and sustainability scene over the last 12 months.

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