Nardos Tilahun from the Auckland Girls Grammar School, New Zealand won the international essay competition prize organised by Living Rainforest in building environmentally sustainable globe.

The Living Rainforest called a Secondary Schools Category (Ages 11-16) international essay competition under the title of 2011-12 INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS ESSAY COMPETITION & DEBATE ‘Dear Mr. UN Secretary-General …’ to motivate and enhance young people participation in building sustained globe. In this competition about 577 essays were received and Nardos Tilahun from the Auckland Girls Grammar School, New Zealand won the prize. As a result she has received the Grand Prize trip to attend the Rio+20 Earth Summit which was held in Brazil in June 2012.

Nardos is 15-year old who arrived in New Zealand at age 7 from Ethiopia clearly articulated in her message to the UN Secretary General about what can be done in the future to improve the current global environmental crisis. Nardos, the teenager wrote the essay with maturity as the competition was tough considering the number and diversity of participants.

Exploiting consumerism for our planet’ was the title of her essay. The article can be inferred as having sustainable environment is a key for everyday life of individuals while looking for the future. Food security as a key factor of sustainable agriculture matters a lot as it is highly influenced by the behaviour of consumerism. Nardos developed a story line of her essay based on the YouTube video of ‘The Story of Stuff’.  

The essay competition which involved judges from the professors of Oxford University, the 2nd and 3rd places were also taken by Theo Toaldo (The Oratory School, UK) and Ksenia Bashlykova (School Gymnasium #6, Kazakhstan) respectively.

Please find below the full essay of Nardos.



Dear Mr UN Secretary General,

Many environmentalists claim that overconsumption is the root cause of the destruction of our planet. Capitalism is a system where profits are generated by things being (in Victor Lebow’s words) “consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace”. This famous economist once stated that “our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption”. He explains that “the measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns”. However, I believe that Victor Lebow’s theory can be manipulated to build a sustainable future.

Businesses globally exercise Lebow’s theory to their advantage. They have adapted two strategies called ‘planned obsolescence’ and ‘perceived obsolescence’. The first, planned obsolescence, is where a product is created to be unproductive or out of date within a given period of time. Secondly, perceived obsolescence is where companies make people want to purchase the latest version of a product.

Part of planned obsolescence is reducing the price of a product to make people buy them more often. Most consumers would want to buy eco-friendly products but due to financial reasons, revert to buying cheaper non-recyclable goods. I suggest that governments should raise the shipping and duty taxes or introduce a new system of taxation on items that have un-recyclable components or release harmful toxins after being discarded. The revenue from taxation could then be used to subsidise the cost of producing eco-friendly items. The reduction of prices in shops would increase the consumption of sustainable products. This would also push companies to make their products more sustainable to minimise their costs and to regain former customers.

We can encourage the public to recycle by placing multiple recycling bins throughout public domains. Separate bins for separate materials such as paper, plastic and food waste can help reduce reusable materials from heading to land fills and make the recycling process easier.

Perceived obsolescence is caused by companies advertising, telling us what is in fashion and encouraging us to shop in order to keep up by buying things, whether it be the latest iPod or the newest burger on the menu. This is what drives consumerism.

But, what if we were to make sustainability fashionable? We need to support and challenge designers to create things that last or can break down and be recycled into the next modern item.

And, what if governments regulated advertising so only companies that sold sustainable products could buy TV air-time? If this happened, consumers would be demanding more durable, environmentally friendly products and, over time companies would produce them.

And, what if we were to meet those demands for new products by relying on raw materials that come from landfills? We would be greatly reducing the damage on the environment while acquiring more land. Rather than destroying our natural environment by mining for minerals and oil, we should “mine” our landfills for things we can recycle. My research has found that waste materials can be processed to create a building material that is stronger, cheaper to produce and more sustainable than cement.

Our exceedingly wasteful way of life demands that we change our style of consumption to a more sustainable kind.

If people seek self-satisfaction in shopping, it must be without compromising the environment’s ability to rejuvenate. Our “measure of prestige” should now to be found in our innovation and sustainable patterns. The ever accelerating growth of our population will increase our consumption of natural resources. Governments must work to ease this burden on the environment by making sustainable products and green technology widely available in everyday life. Our consumables need to be able to be re-consumed: a TV can be repaired, old jeans can be recycled, a forest replaced.

The fight for our environment is a struggle to save ourselves and the whole of humanity.

Yours sincerely,

Nardos Tilahun

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