Our lifestyles are partly shaped by the food we eat, the way we travel, the dwellings we live in and our leisure activities. Humanity consumes more natural resources than what the planet can sustainably provide. Why is that? We like to blame business or government, but ultimately, the only reason we take natural resources out of the ground is because those materials are used to make the products and infrastructure that we use to enjoy the best of life. The sand and gravel under the roads we use, the steel in the buildings we live and work in, the copper in the phones we communicate with, the fish in our soup, and the cotton in our jeans—all of it comes from the earth. The extraction of materials from the environment is the start of a causal chain that serves our consumption patterns which are shaped by our lifestyles. As consumers and voters, we ultimately determine the amount of mining, agriculture, forestry and fishing that occurs every year, which is what causes impacts on our environment.
At its core, food provides us with the calories and nutrients we need to live – it serves our need for subsistence. Most of us are fortunate enough that food is more than subsistence. We can make choices about food depending on other factors. Many of these factors are determined by the role food plays to meet our other needs – our need for leisure (let’s get together and grab a coffee,) participation (it’s the moon cake festival!) and creativity (I feel like baking!) We even communicate affection through food (I bought you these chocolates!)
The way that we consume food to meet these needs can vary vastly – and with those changes, the impact of our food on the environment. Substantial environmental impacts from food occur along all stages of the food system (agriculture, food processing, transport and waste). And it’s up to us whether this is minimized or not. For example, for the same amount of calories and nutrients, is the food animal based or vegetable based? Animal based food tends to have a far higher environmental impact under typical production systems, though this is not necessarily the case through many types of sustainable agriculture systems. Food is also far easier on the environment when it is local and seasonal – this usually means less chemical inputs and fewer food miles. How much is leftover or wasted before it reaches your plate and after? Food waste also has obvious impacts – not only are there environmental impacts from food production– but on top of that, if unfinished food (organic waste) goes to landfill, the nutrients that were not ingested cannot return to the earth and they will release significant greenhouse gases as they decompose.
What do members of the Asia-Pacific like to eat? What is our relationship to vegetables? To meat? How do we treat surplus food? What is most important to us when we select our food?
Our homes provide us first with physical protection from the weather, as well as security. But beyond that, they can serve many needs – an outlet for creativity in how we decorate them, a place of leisure where we can relax, possibly a place where we work, and often times a place to share with others in a family or community. Our homes also contribute to environmental impacts. Households consume 29% of global energy and consequently contribute to 21% of resultant CO2 emissions. Commercial and residential energy use is the second most rapidly growing area of global energy use. This can vary dramatically depending on its size, the materials the house is made of (which will determine how much you need to heat and cool), how many electrical products are inside, how often you use them and whether they are efficient or not. It also depends on the type of energy we use – for example, it is far more efficient to use gas for cooking than electricity.
Do we aspire to have large homes? How much time do we spend in our homes? And what are our homes equipped with? How many appliances do we have? How different is this than how our grandparents lived? How reliable is electricity where we live? How do we feel about energy consumption?
Transport plays an increasing role in our lives. It gives us wider access to work, leisure and services. Without transport, we would need to meet all our needs within a very small radius – about as much as we can walk to and back in a day. In its most basic form, transport is measured in person-kilometers. Different modes of transport can deliver different volumes of person-kilometers per unit of road space, energy consumption and air pollution. Global motor vehicle kilometers are projected to increase by 40% and air travel is projected to triple by 2020. In the Asia-Pacific region, the demand for gas and transport fuel has increased by more than 400% since 1970. A high speed train can deliver a lot of person- kilometers for a relatively low amount of impact, where as a personal vehicle requires not only a lot of land for road space, but also a lot of emissions for every kilometer.
Where are we traveling? How are we traveling? How are we managing our daily commute? How far are we living from our workplace or school? What is our opinion of public transport?
One thing is for sure: the Asia-Pacific region is on the move. Lifestyles are changing rapidly due to globalization and the resulting access to choice. Perhaps also due to the growing role of the advertising sector, which is influential in shaping what we aspire our lives to be. As incomes per household grow, we are interested to learn how our region will use this additional income to change consumption patterns.
What is your dream? What does prosperity mean to you? What do you want your government to work on? What would you do if your salary doubled? As complex beings, creating a complete profile of any individual is a daunting task indeed. However, each and every voice in our lifestyle conversation serves as an indicator of what direction we are collectively heading in.