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Eco-sufficiency requires a reduction in the consumption of energy and natural resources and in the generation of waste (among which GHG emissions) in absolute terms.

This goes beyond the goal of increasing eco-efficiency, which focuses on increasing output per unit of input to foster decoupling. Given a very loose relation in rich countries between GDP and human well-being, pursuing eco-sufficiency may be possible without reducing the latter by, for example, increasing leisure and communal activities.


In 1993, Wolfgang Sachs summarised sufficiency with "four Ds"[1]:

  • Decelerate (going slower and less far);
  • De-clutter (accumulate fewer things);
  • Decentralize (choosing local and regional) ;
  • Decommercialization (leaving less room for the market in your life).

Description and examples[edit]

There are potentials to substantially reduce 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 increase in resource productivity of 4% in order to achieve a 2% reduction in 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 to related 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.[2]

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.


  1. ^ Wolfgang Sachs, "Die vier E’s: Merkposten für einen maßvollen Wirtschaftsstil", Politische Ökologie, 1993.
  2. ^ Boulanger, P.M. (2010) “Three strategies for sustainable consumption”. S.A.P.I.EN.S. 3 (2)