SD Features
Sustainability Concepts
Sustainable Consumption
A. Definition

Sustainable consumption is the consumption of goods and services that have minimal impact upon the environment, are socially equitable and economically viable whilst meeting the basic needs of humans, worldwide. Sustainable consumption targets everyone, across all sectors and all nations, from the individual to governments and multinational conglomerates.

B. Main Features

In the last 50 years, the global population has consumed more goods and services than the combined total of all previous generations (Tillard 2000). This growth in consumption has fostered economic growth, environmental degradation and improved the quality of life for many. However, consumption patterns differ significantly between developed and developing nations. Tillard (2000) notes that the richest one fifth of the world accounts for 86% of consumption whilst the poorest one fifth account for about one percent of consumption.

Current unsustainable consumption patterns are destroying the environment; depleting stocks of natural resources; distributing resources in an inequitable manner; contributing to social problems such as poverty; and hampering sustainable development efforts. Focusing on the demand side, sustainable consumption compliments sustainable production practices and achievements.

Sustainable consumption requires a multidisciplinary and multinational approach. Teams composed from various disciplines are required to create and implement policies. Developed nations need to assist rather than exploit developing nations.

The main barriers to sustainable consumption include: lack of awareness and training; lack of support from the community, government and industry; reluctance to include the true environmental and social costs in the price of goods and services; ingrained unsustainable thinking and behaviours patterns; and lack of alternative sustainable products and services.

C. Organizational Proponent

Sustainable consumption was first espoused at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, in Chapter 4 of Agenda 21.

D. Case Studies and Examples

1. Household Tourism Travel
The OECD examined the trends, environmental impacts and policy responses to household tourism travel as part of their program on sustainable consumption. They found that tourism contributes to environmental degration through transport related emissions, impacts on biodiversity and depletion of or damage to natural resources. Further, the extent of degration depends on various travel factors. Some options recommended for reducing the environmental impact of household tourism travel include: education; a change in perception of holidays; use of technology that improves the environmental performance of transport; transport demand management; economic instruments and travel policies.

2. NU (Sustainable Incentive) Card
Rotterdam (Netherlands) launch a new type of purchase card - the NU-Card. The project is a joint effort by the European Commission and the Province of South Holland. Card holders are awarded points for certain actions, or for purchasing sustainable goods and services. Points can be redeemed for other sustainable goods and services. The project, launched early 2002, expected to have 8,000 cardholders and 100 to 200 SMEs enrolled in the scheme by the end 2002. Focused on the demand side, the NU-card is expected to increase market share of sustainable goods and services, modify consumer attitudes and behaviour and raise awareness.

E. Target Sectors / Stakeholders

Sustainable consumption requires the effort of everyone - individuals; government; non-government organisations; industry associations; educators; research institutions; decision makers; economists; business; industry; etc

F. Scale of Operation

Implementation of sustainable consumption is feasible on a regional or national level, however, sustainable consumption has to be applied worldwide.

G. Links

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