Citizen-led campaign calls on consumers to fight Singapore's haze

Signal of change / Citizen-led campaign calls on consumers to fight Singapore's haze

By Juliette Aplin / 23 Jul 2015

The People’s Movement against Haze (PM.Haze) in Singapore has launched ‘We Breathe What We Buy’, a campaign to raise awareness of the consumer’s role in creating the poor air quality or ‘haze’ affecting the region. Supported by both WWF Singapore and the Singapore Environment Council, this campaign is the first citizen-led initiative looking to engage the public in thinking about the direct relationship between their daily purchasing decisions and the haze.

Demand for paper and palm-oil based products, ranging from lipstick, toothpaste, pizza and ice cream, has led to intensive palm oil production practices in the region, such as deforestation, landscape fires and draining peatlands. As a result, Singapore faces an annual haze problem, with severe health and economic implications.

Elaine Tan, CEO of WWF-Singapore, stated the campaign “aims to drive mass public consumer awareness, to create demand for certified sustainable palm oil, and bring about a market transformation that can help to stop the haze.”

The ‘We Breathe What We Buy’ campaign includes striking billboard images of lipstick, pizza or toothpaste, which on closer inspection reveal images of burning forest within.  TV advertisements depict citizens disrupted in their everyday activities by the face masks they are forced to wear.

So what?

Jiehui Kia, Sustainability Advisor, at Forum for the Future, Asia-Pacific, sees the ‘We Breathe What We Buy’ campaign as a significant step in changing consumer behaviour around buying palm oil derived products.

“While consumers in western markets are highly aware of the destruction of biodiversity and habitats for the famed Orang Utans, along with the threatened livelihoods of local communities, the impact most visible and “breathable” to people living in the Southeast Asian region is the haze”, she says. “Populations have had to live with haze for decades, but the increased frequency of ‘bad haze days’ – linked to slash-and-burn agriculture – has raised concerns over public health, and increased pressure on governments to resolve the cross-border issue.”

Kia finds the campaign noteworthy for several reasons. “Firstly, this is the first campaign to directly target consumers in Singapore and the surrounding region. Secondly, it has originated as a ground-up initiative, organized by civil society groups, rather than the state driven efforts dominating public conversations around the haze to date. Finally, it represents a growing public consciousness of the systemic yet abstract link between an individual’s actions (i.e. consumption of everyday products) and the air quality around them. Citizens are impatient for change, and rather than relying on governments or big businesses to do things differently, this campaign is asking individuals to take responsibility for their actions.”

Image Credit: We Breathe What We Buy


Channel News Asia (2015, June 28) Green groups fight haze problem together for the first time

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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