World Environment Day: The science behind sustainable consumption

Most things we buy cost much more than the money spent at the store. We take a look at how researchers on the network are tackling the problem.

Take a cotton shirt, for example. The total cost isn’t the few dollars handed to the cashier, it includes the billions of dollars spent on cotton field pesticides each year. And the cost of pesticides on the environment has proven deadly.

Scientists worldwide work hard to restrict environmental damage caused by resource inefficiency, and unsustainable consumption and production - the theme of this year's World Environment Day (WED)June 5th. We've highlighted some of these scientists' stories below - have a look:

First up, as a case in point, is about three scientists working towards biopesticides in the cotton industry. Agricultural scientist Luigi Lucini (Italy) met Kitherian Sahayaraj (India) on ResearchGate, and formed a team to analyze how a particular fungus kills the pesky cotton stainer bug without the need for dangerous toxins. It’s mode of attack is gruesome, yet well worth a read.

A small Oklahoma town is considered one of America’s worst man-made environmental disasters. Picher used to be a productive lead and zinc mining area; today it’s a ghost town littered with toxic waste. Geologist Bill Andrews had an idea to clean the waste at a profit, and – after 7 years of looking - met a minerals economist on ResearchGate to help him see it through. Their solution is now being investigated by private companies...

10,000 people went from having too much water to not enough after a large hydroelectric dam was constructed in Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. The locals were moved to a new town where the central water system was filling with clay. Shun Deng Fam, a conservationist and PhD student posted their problem on ResearchGate, and with a multidisciplinary mix of researchers, helped to find several possible solutions for a new water supply.

The semi-arid region of Brazil has already been hit hard by climate change. Farmers tap into the groundwater, but even with the government’s desalination devices they’re left with lots of salty water. After seeking advice from scientists on ResearchGate, a researcher helped to find a sustainable method to save the land for food production: raising fish and shrimp in the Brazilian Savannah’s salty water...

Seals are a key source of nutrition for many people in the Arctic, but every bite they take comes with a side of poisonous mercury. This August, three ships will traverse the sea to take samples and try to solve the puzzling origin of methyl mercury in the Arctic Ocean. Here's the full story.

Asking the tough questions

Scientists on the network also raise interesting discussions pertinent to WED theme, showing work in this area is constant and ongoing. You can read these here:

  • Architecture and consumption: a Colombian researcher asks his peers what changes can be made to traditional buildings to understand and reduce consumers' consumption patterns, and here's a discussion about using recycled concrete in modern buildings.

  • Green computing: not to be forgotten! These researchers look at how central processing units and cloud computing can be made more efficient.

  • Buying behavior and ethics: researchers discuss how moral emotions such as guilt and shame can promote buying behavior, and this question hones in on how consumers' attitudes can be measured.

Most things we buy cost much more than the money spent at the store. But these researchers are helping to enforce resource efficiency, and sustainable consumption and production. Help us celebrate their stories on June 5.