Sustainable consumption

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Sustainable consumption (sometimes abbreviated to "SC")[1] is the use of material products, energy and immaterial services in such a way that their use minimizes impacts on the environment, so that human needs can be met not only in the present but also for future generations.[2] Consumption refers not only to individuals and households, but also to governments, business, and other institutions. Sustainable consumption is closely related to sustainable production and sustainable lifestyles. "A sustainable lifestyle minimizes ecological impacts while enabling a flourishing life for individuals, households, communities, and beyond. It is the product of individual and collective decisions about aspirations and about satisfying needs and adopting practices, which are in turn conditioned, facilitated, and constrained by societal norms, political institutions, public policies, infrastructures, markets, and culture."[3]

The United Nations includes analyses of efficiency, infrastructure, and waste, as well as access to basic services, green and decent jobs and a better quality of life for all within the concept of sustainable consumption.[4] It shares a number of common features with and is closely linked to the terms sustainable production and sustainable development. Sustainable consumption, as part of sustainable development, is a prerequisite in the worldwide struggle against sustainability challenges such as climate change, resource depletion, famines or environmental pollution.

Sustainable development as well as sustainable consumption rely on certain premises such as:

Goal 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals seeks to "ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns".[5]

The Oslo definition[edit]

The definition proposed by the Oslo Symposium on Sustainable Consumption in 1994 refers to sustainable consumption 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."[6]

Strong and weak sustainable consumption[edit]

Some writers make a distinction between "strong" and "weak" sustainability.[7]

In order to achieve sustainable consumption, two developments have to take place: it requires both an increase in the efficiency of consumption as well as a change in consumption patterns and reductions in consumption levels in industrialized countries as well as rich social classes in developing countries which have also a large ecological footprint and give examples for increasing middle classes in developing countries.[8] The first prerequisite is not sufficient on its own and can be named weak sustainable consumption. Here, technological improvements and eco-efficiency support a necessary reduction in resource consumption. Once this aim has been met, the second prerequisite, the change in patterns and reduction of levels of consumption is indispensable. Strong sustainable consumption approaches also pay attention to the social dimension of well-being and assess the need for changes based on a risk-averse perspective.[9] In order to achieve what can be termed strong sustainable consumption, changes in infrastructures as well as the choices customers have are required. In the political arena, weak sustainable consumption has been discussed whereas strong sustainable consumption is missing from all debates.[10]

The so-called attitude-behaviour or values-action gap describes a significant obstacle to changes in individual customer behavior. Many consumers are well aware of the importance of their consumption choices and care about environmental issues, however, most of them do not translate their concerns into their consumption patterns as the purchase-decision making process is highly complicated and relies on e.g. social, political and psychological factors. Young et al. identified a lack of time for research, high prices, a lack of information and the cognitive effort needed as the main barriers when it comes to green consumption choices.[11]

Sustainable Development Goals[edit]

The Sustainable Development Goals were established by the United Nations in 2015. SDG 12 is described as to "ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns".[12] Specifically, targets 12.1 and 12.A of SDG 12 aim to implement frameworks and support developing countries in order to "move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production". [13]

Notable conferences and programs[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Consumer Council (Hong Kong), Sustainable Consumption for a Better Future – A Study on Consumer Behaviour and Business Reporting, published 22 February 2016, accessed 13 September 2020
  2. ^ Our common future. World Commission on Environment and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1987. ISBN 978-0192820808. OCLC 15489268.CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. ^ Vergragt, P.J. et al (2016) Fostering and Communicating Sustainable Lifestyles: Principles and Emerging Practices, UNEP– Sustainable Lifestyles, Cities and Industry Branch, , page 6.
  4. ^ "Sustainable consumption and production". United Nations Sustainable Development. Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  5. ^ "Goal 12: Responsible consumption, production". UNDP. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  6. ^ Source: Norwegian Ministry of the Environment (1994) Oslo Roundtable on Sustainable Production and Consumption.
  7. ^ Ross, A., Modern Interpretations of Sustainable Development, Journal of Law and Society , Mar., 2009, Vol. 36, No. 1, Economic Globalization and Ecological Localization: Socio-legal Perspectives (Mar., 2009), pp. 32-54
  8. ^ Meier, Lars; Lange, Hellmuth, eds. (2009). The New Middle Classes. doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-9938-0. ISBN 978-1-4020-9937-3.
  9. ^ Lorek, Sylvia; Fuchs, Doris (2013). "Strong Sustainable Consumption Governance - Precondition for a Degrowth Path?". Journal of Cleaner Production. 38: 36–43. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.08.008.
  10. ^ Fuchs, Doris; Lorek, Sylvia (2005). "Sustainable Consumption Governance: A History of Promises and Failures". Journal of Consumer Policy. 28 (3): 261–288. doi:10.1007/s10603-005-8490-z.
  11. ^ Young, William (2010). "Sustainable Consumption: Green Consumer Behaviour when Purchasing Products" (PDF). Sustainable Development (18): 20–31.
  12. ^ UN Goal 12: Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns [1]
  13. ^ UN Goal 12: Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns [2]
  14. ^ United Nations. "Agenda 21" (PDF).
  15. ^ Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (1997) Sustainable Consumption and Production, Paris: OECD.
  16. ^ United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (1998) Human Development Report, New York: UNDP.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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].
  19. ^ "Third International Conference of the Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI)". CBS - Copenhagen Business School. 2018-03-07. Retrieved 2020-02-21.

External Links[edit]