The socio-ecological problems and the IPAT formula

Last Wednesday’s lecture discussed a variety of currently occurring socio-ecological problems. The problem of understanding the “real” world and the tendency to see the world as wee are told to see it were introduced with interesting examples of the movie Matrix (knowing the difference between the vitrual and real world) and the image of planet Earth as an example of a image that is known all over the world and that constructs our perception and way of seeing and understanding different things. One of the most interesting concepts presente din the lecture was the IPAT formula and the many-sided effects and possibilities of its three factors: population, affluence and technology.

The population of the world was divided into three consumer classes; poor, middle and affluent, with the developed countries belongiong into the affluent consumer class. A fruitful discussion emerged during the three consumer classes slide relating to whether all people on Earth have the right to belong to the affluent class, and similarly, whether all people should reckognize the problems the affluent consumer class creates, such as people owning a private car, remarkable meat consumpiton and creation of waste. A clever comment was argued by a student at class about the contradiction of the consumer classes: altough affluent consumer class should acknowledge the problems the affluent lifestyle creates, it should, according to social aspect and human rights, be a right for every people; no person should have to live in poor, unhuman conditions in the poor consumer class. However, at the same time, as developing countries are further developing and moving from the middle class towards the affluent class, the socio-ecological problems on Earth’s are to increase. With this contradiction, people already living in the affluent class shoudln’t be able to prevent others (poor/middle class consumers) to the right of owning consumer private cars and increased consumption in general and still, themselves, continue the current lifestyle. The affluent consumer class should understand the effects of its lifestyle on sustainability and, without preventing others to gain the living conditions, try to meet the sustainable living in their everyday life.

Another interesting discussion emerged relating to which factor – population, affluency or technology – can be most effectively targeted with sustainability marketing. It seems that technology is the most potential with affluency factor following.

The lecture also discussed impact matrix’s and we conducted a group work where we were to examine the socio-ecologicla impacts of a certain supply chain, such as the supply chain of Finnish brick house or a cotton t-shirt. The task gave excellent overview on sustainability issues and socio-ecological problems in terms how difficult it is to predict them, and in how many phases these different kinds of problems occur. Even the type of phases in the supply chain where previously not thought, some socio-ecological problems seemed to arise. However, the problems rarely are black-and-white; the task presented greatly how many-sided and complex these socio-ecological problems in the world actually are.

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