Sustainable Consumption… in Dubai?

November 20, 2009
  • Aron Cramer portrait

    Aron Cramer

    President and CEO, BSR

I am in Dubai to chair the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Sustainable Consumption. This three-day meeting will produce recommendations on how business, government, civil society, and—critically—consumers can remake our economy to put it on a more sustainable path.

I have to admit that an American flying to Dubai to discuss sustainable consumption does push the irony meter toward 10.

It’s hard for Americans to be too forceful about sustainable consumption. You know (or you should know) the statistics: Americans produce 20 tons of CO2 per capita per year, twice the UK average, three times the European average, and 10 times the Chinese average. And if the entire world were to replicate U.S. consumption patterns, we would need half a dozen planets to deliver the goods.

Dubai, however, has recently wrested from the United States the crown of most resource-hungry nation. The WWF’s 2008 Living Planet Report ranked the ecological footprint of the United Arab Emirates as slightly larger than the United States’. (Dubai is the most populous of the seven emirates in the federation.) Dubai uses 10 percent more water than the average American—and six times more than nearby Jordan.

Dubai has captured the public’s imagination with its world’s largest skyscraper and first six-star hotel. But a tribute to sustainable consumption it’s not. As author Jon Krane points out in his excellent book City of Gold, it takes a lot of energy to pump water 150 stories in the sky and keep the indoor ski mountain icy cold.

While my conscience is salved a small bit that Americans can relinquish their resource-consumption crown, I’m disappointed that Dubai’s impressive vision and innovation have built monuments to consumption rather than to a truly sustainable future.

So as the sustainable consumption dialogue unfolds this week, let’s hope that what happens in Dubai also stays in Dubai, and has an impact on the the city-state’s development model.

Check back at this blog over the next few days for more insights from the WEF meeting.

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