Sustainable consumption

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Definitions of Sustainable consumption (SC) share a number of common features, and to an extent build in the characteristics of sustainable production, its twin sister concept and inherit much of from the idea of sustainable development:

  • Quality of life;
  • Wise use of resources, and minimisation of waste and pollution;
  • Use of renewable resources within their capacity for renewal;
  • Fuller product life-cycles; and
  • Intergenerational and intragenerational equity.

The Oslo Definition[edit]

The definition proposed by the 1994 Oslo Symposium on Sustainable Consumption defines it as "the use of services and related products which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations." [1]

Institutionalising sustainable consumption[edit]

Developments of sustainable consumption after Agenda 21[edit]

  • 1994 – At the UNSCD it was decided there was a need to consider SC.
  • 1995 – SC was requested to be incorporated by UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) into the UN Guidelines on Consumer Protection.
  • 1997 – A major report produced by OECD on SC.[2]
  • 1998 – UNEP SC program begins and discussion of SC in the Human Development Report of the UN Development Program (UNDP).[3]
  • 2002 – Creation of a ten-year program on sustainable consumption and production (SCP) in the Plan of Implementation at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.[4]
  • 2003 - The “Marrakech Process” was developed by co-ordination of a series a of meetings and other “multi-stakeholder” processes by UNEP and UNDESA following the WSSD.[5]

Sustainable consumption governance has developed from the Oslo definition to the present day implementation strategies and policies that were generated through these global meetings.

Sustainable consumption initiatives[edit]

The Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production is one leading independent authority, that is exploring the dimensions of consumption and production. In 2007, Tesco, the largest supermarket in the United Kingdom, established the Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI) with a £25 million grant to The University of Manchester.

SC is not always equivalent to livable conditions. In the United States, for the most part, technology and capital are available to find or invent replacement resources and for people to find new occupations that are less destructive to the environment. The United States can start becoming a more sustainable society.[6] On the other hand, many developing countries do not have the ability to reduce their consumption of resources and are often subordinate to a more powerful government. Developing countries may receive necessary imports such as food from outside sources and furthermore may not be able to control the exploitation of their own natural resources by international companies.[7]


  1. ^ Source: Norwegian Ministry of the Environment (1994) Oslo Roundtable on Sustainable Production and Consumption.
  2. ^ Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (1997) Sustainable Consumption and Production, Paris: OECD.
  3. ^ United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (1998) Human Development Report, New York: UNDP.
  4. ^ United Nations (UN) (2002) Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development. In Report of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, UN Document A/CONF.199/20*, New York: UN.
  5. ^ United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs (2010) Paving the Way to Sustainable Consumption and Production. In Marrakech Process Progress Report including Elements for a 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP). [online] Available at: [Accessed: 6/11/2011].
  6. ^ Bauer, J. (2006) Forging Environmentalism, New York: M.E. Sharp.
  7. ^ Cobb, J. (1992) Sustainability, New York: Orbis Books.

External links[edit]