What can be done to solve this problem? Actually, a lot. In terms of private consumption, the biggest factor in the Western world's overconsumption is the greenhouse gases from energy production and transportation. Emissions are being generated at a faster rate than the forests can absorb. The next biggest footprint factor is the food we consume.
However, consumers hold the answer to only some of the solutions. There are many situations in which consumers can only select from among the alternatives available. And there is a wide spectrum of consumers: some are more willing to pay a higher price for a product that was produced under stricter environmental standards, some care only about price, and for others it is something else that matters.
Better solutions enter the mainstream through political steering and solutions offered by companies. Autumn 2015 was a "super season" in terms of global environmental policy. While there was considerably more attention to the Paris Climate Conference, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by United Nations General Assembly went almost unnoticed. The 2030 Agenda consists of 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals defining international development policy and targeting developing countries, the 2030 Agenda is universal. All countries are committed to its targets.
The purpose of the Agenda is to be transformative. Transformation is necessary in the current situation of unsustainable consumption of natural resources. At the same time, biodiversity and the integrity of ecosystems have been seriously compromised. The 2030 Agenda includes ambitious targets, such as sustainable use of natural resources, halting the loss of biodiversity, halting deforestation, protecting marine ecosystems, and significantly improving resource efficiency. Every country in the world should accomplish these and many more targets over the next 15 years.
The goal will not be reached through ordinary "continuous improvement". The high-level panel preparing the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio in 2012 noted: "Progress has been made, but it has been neither fast nor deep enough, and the need for further-reaching action is growing ever more urgent."
For companies, the Agenda 2030 states the governmental stakeholder expectations. Companies should be able to renew themselves and carry out profitable business within this framework. This results in the need for adaptation in many businesses, but it also creates new opportunities for companies, like Metso, that produce energy- and resource-efficient solutions. When resource scarcity drives prices higher or customer segments encounter even stricter environmental regulations, there will be plenty of demand for efficient solutions. Moreover, an exponentially more difficult challenge is to create business models that transform the use of natural resources in value chains and networks into circular economy and thus significantly conserves natural resources. These and many other solutions must be found and implemented quickly – for the sake of us and the planet.