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Eco-sufficiency requires a reduction of the level of production/consumption in those parts of the world with the highest standards of living beyond reducing the use of natural resources as well as waste and emissions per unit of production/consumption (=decoupling/delinking). Given a very loose relation in rich countries between material wealth, GDP and human well-being, this might be possible even without reducing the latter, while, for example, increasing leisure and non-material activities for well-being.

There are potentials to reduce substantially the use of natural resources without compromising human wealth. However, many studies show that economic growth “eats up” these gains at least partially: if the economy grows by 2% per annum we need an increasing resource productivity by 4% in order to achieve a 2% reduction of the absolute resource use. While eco-efficiency aims to improve the effectiveness of material, energy, and land use, eco-sufficiency aims at reducing negative environmental consequences through a reduction of the demand for consumer goods.

Eco-sufficiency is closely related to issues of quality of life and work-life balance. It can to some extent be achieved on the individual level, e.g. through energy savings, reduction of transport and change in diets (less meat). However, it also requires a change in social frameworks, provided on the national or European level, including measures such as environmental taxes, environmental planning and new concepts of labour.

Eco-sufficiency is largely associated with the idea of altruism – the sober lifestyle adopted by its advocates is a manifestation of their concern for the well-being of future generations – and thus to date is endorsed by only a small minority of members of industrialised societies. A wide spread of eco-sufficiency will only occur, if people find the new lifestyles sufficiently attractive. It needs to be shown that less material wealth can bring increased well-being or happiness to individuals and societies. For example, it has been shown that downsizing or relocating consumers can be motivated by purely selfish reasons such as improving one’s health, avoiding stress, the nostalgia for a “good old time” and so on.[1]

An important aspect here is related to the so-called work-and-spend cycle. If leisure and forms of work other than employment (incl. self-employment), such as caring, do it yourself and community work gain relevance, income - and therefore consumption - would be reduced.