By Marcus Lundstedt, Director for Press & Advocacy at We Effect –
The first deep breaths of fresh Autumn air after two years in Vietnam are crisp and invigorating. A reminder that moving back to Sweden has its perks. Don’t get me wrong, my family and I loved and miss living in Vietnam – the warmth of the people and weather are still strong reasons for us to pack up our life and move back again. I don’t however miss the morning routine of checking the app for the daily air pollution forecast.
I Am Still Responsible
Living in the ‘comfort’ of Sweden, I might fall into the trap that what happens 8,000 kilometers on the other side of the world is not my responsibility. I do not need to think or work actively on sustainable impact anymore. I have clean air.
As I take the next breath and I observe that almost every piece of clothing on my body, furniture in our new flat or electric device that circumnavigate my daily life is produced in countries like Vietnam, China or India.
Those assembly lines need power to meet my demand for these products. Delivering that power is partly why students in my child’s former school in Ho Chi Minh City are not allowed to play outside on some days. Why farmers in rural Vietnam don’t know when to plant or harvest anymore, because the rains have become too erratic. Why CNN are reporting of smog clouds over Delhi that are de-routing airplanes and making people sick in the Indian capital.
Yes, this is just one dimension to a very complex issue. Nonetheless, we must remind ourselves that sustainability such as pollution and climate change are global issues. Swedes can breathe fresh Autumn air today, to some extent, because we have moved our production facilities elsewhere. These consumer related emissions are not counted for when we collect the yearly stats for how much Swedes emit every year.
And even without including that data, every Swede is responsible for around 10 tons of climate gases being let out in our atmosphere yearly. A Vietnamese person, despite the many factories in their country, does not even come close. He or she is basically a more eco-friendly person. This perspective gets lost in the debate over how we are going to protect our planet.
While from afar, Sweden ‘looks’ greener yet this insight in interconnectivity links us. It is consequently instrumental to find a common sustainable path with common solutions to these problems.
I often hear Swedes say that what we do in Sweden has no or very little impact on other countries.
This is a myth.
The struggle for gender equality, women’s right to vote or to drive, is just one very clear example of how we influence one another across the globe. The ripple effect can sometime take time, in Saudi Arabia decades, but change happens.
In our globalized world, not only does my new winter jacket (Made in Vietnam) travel across continents, ideas do to.
And change can come when you least expect it.
When I first arrived in Vietnam in August 2017, there was very little debate over plastic pollution. When I left this summer, it was the center of attention and among the most read articles on the news websites. NGOs, companies and government branches were coming together to find joint solutions to address the problems. They have a long way to go, but at least the conversation has started and gaining traction.
And what Vietnam does to combat plastic waste can influence its neighbours Cambodia and Laos, connected by the mighty Mekong River. The same is true for rivaling companies, competing for market shares by being best at lowering emissions and meeting consumer demands on sustainability.
The Winter Coat is Not Only Warm
This sounds simplistic, maybe naïve. I know. And reading the scientists’ alarm reports over the climate crisis leave most people with a feeling of hopelessness. Like it´s too late.
I´m more optimistic. Naïve or not. What other option is there really?
History tells us that change can come swiftly. Banning dangerous and poisonous pesticides like DDT, after the book The Silent Springcame out, is one example. Greta Thunberg organizing millions of people to take a stand for the planet is another more recent one. But again, we must understand that we are in it together.
As the first snow falls and the air turns even colder, I will put my ‘Vietnamese’ winter coat on.
From a Swedish consumer perspective, and to really hone in that sustainable in Sweden is not always as clear cut, I will leave you with an idea: I’m not a copywriter, but here’s a start. I think one simple step would be to label all products with a tag:
“Hey, did you know that this winter coat is not only warm, it also makes the planet warmer?”
Click for more information on Sustainable Vietnam Contributor, Marcus Lundstedt and read about his thoughts that ‘smart and bold sustainability initiatives can inspire’ or Profile: See, Hear, Speak – Spurring Action Through Communications to learn more.