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Short summary of Victoria W. Thoresen’s contribution to the side event panel on Chemicals at CSD 18 at the UN May 5, 2010 For the consumer, chemicals are the notes which turn into the “music” of the products they buy and use. Not everyone can read musical notes nor understand how they fit together to create the sounds we hear. In the same way, consumers are not always aware of the chemicals involved in everything from the food we eat to the clothes we wear and the air we breathe. Lack of awareness affects the consumer’s understanding of the consequences-environmental, social and economic—of the use of products and services. The challenge we must deal with today is twofold: 1) How can product information be more transparent and accountable in relation to chemicals used in the entire supply chain as well as in disposal processes? 2) How can consumers learn to assess and use available information to change their behavior to acquire more sustainable lifestyles and to influence changes in production and governance? Assessing information In the present age of information overload, few consumers are interested in spending long periods of time deciphering what chemicals are involved in the production of, for example, a chocolate bar or their cell phone. Yet research shows that when simple, relevant information about products is provided in a manner which is easily understood, consumers often take the time to consider the information. But what is meant by “simple, relevant and understandable information”? This is information which, both in advertising and labeling, indicates agreed upon levels of reliability and responsibility. The International Standards Organization, for example, has for a number of years developed standards of environmental friendliness, and has now created ISO 26000 for Social responsibility. These standards are proof of a product’s or process’s or organization’s ability to live up to specific levels of acceptable use of, for example chemicals. And they also provide systems by which stakeholders along the entire supply chain can provide feedback which then can be used to improve the quality of the product or service. Changing behaviour Considering information about the chemicals involved in production and disposal is only a step towards sustainable lifestyles. The link between knowing and doing must be strengthened in order for consumers to be motivated to use the power they have in their interaction with the market and to both buy and live differently. Parents and teachers in particular, as well as society at large, have the responsibility of defining the ethical norms which drive our communities. Although incentives such as green taxes, pollution fines and other forms of rewards and punishment contribute to behavior change, the fundamental source of change has always been the desire to do and be “better”. In our age, “better” must be defined as being more socially just and more ecologically sustainable rather than being merely more economically profitable. In addition this, individuals need to be trained to be active stakeholders who are willing and able to communicate with producers, advertisers, governments, etc. New methods of communication are appearing such as online consultations and social networking. Learning to use these and other tools constructively can help us all contribute to the creation of a safer, cleaner and more just world.