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Sustainable consumption (SC) is the use of material products, energy and immaterial services in such a way that it minimizes the impact on the environment, so that human needs can be met not only in the present but also for future generations.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.".
Sustainable Consumption, then, would also include 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.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:
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."
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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.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. 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.
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.
Natural resources are resources that exist without actions of humankind. This includes all valued characteristics such as magnetic, gravitational, electrical properties and forces, etc. On Earth it includes sunlight, atmosphere, water, land along with all vegetation, crops and animal life that naturally subsists upon or within the previously identified characteristics and substances.
Overconsumption is a situation where resource use has outpaced the sustainable capacity of the ecosystem. A prolonged pattern of overconsumption leads to environmental degradation and the eventual loss of resource bases.
The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was a body under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) tasked with overseeing the outcomes of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development/Earth Summit. It was replaced in 2013 by the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which meets both under the General Assembly every four years and the ECOSOC in other years.
The green economy is defined as economy that aims at making issues of reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities, and that aims for sustainable development without degrading the environment. It is closely related with ecological economics, but has a more politically applied focus. The 2011 UNEP Green Economy Report argues "that to be green, an economy must not only be efficient, but also fair. Fairness implies recognizing global and country level equity dimensions, particularly in assuring a just transition to an economy that is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive."
Sustainability advertising is communications geared towards promoting social, economic and environmental benefits of products, services or actions through paid advertising in media in order to encourage responsible behavior of consumers.
Procurement is the process of finding, acquiring, buying goods, services or works from an external source, often via a tendering or competitive bidding process. The process is used to ensure the buyer receives goods, services or works the best possible price, when aspects such as quality, quantity, time, and location are compared. Procurement is considered sustainable when organizations broadens this framework by meeting their needs for goods, services, works, and utilities in a way that achieves value for money and promotes positive outcomes not only for the organization itself but for the economy, environment, and society. This framework is also known as the triple bottom line.
The Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production is a non-profit limited liability. It was jointly founded by the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2005 to establish an internationally visible institution for scientific research, outreach and transfer activities on sustainable consumption and production (SCP). The Centre contributes to the Plan of Implementation agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 to promote sustainable patterns of consumption and production (SCP).
The term Degrowth is used for both a political, economic and social movement as well as a set of theories formulating a critique of the paradigm of economic growth. It is based on ideas from a diverse range of lines of thought such as political ecology, ecological economics, feminist political ecology or environmental justice. Degrowth emphasizes the need to reduce global consumption and production and advocates a socially just and ecologically sustainable society with well-being as indicator of prosperity instead of GDP. Degrowth highlights the importance of autonomy, care work, self-organization, commons, community, localized production, work sharing, happiness and conviviality.
Sustainability is the ability of a system to exist constantly at a cost, in a universe that evolves towards thermodynamic equilibrium, the state with maximum entropy. In the 21st century, it refers generally to the capacity for the biosphere and human civilization to coexist. It is also defined as the process of people maintaining change in a homeostasis balanced environment, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations. For many in the field, sustainability is defined through the following interconnected domains or pillars: environment, economic and social, which according to Fritjof Capra is based on the principles of Systems Thinking. Sub-domains of sustainable development have been considered also: cultural, technological and political. According to Our Common Future, Sustainable development is defined as development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Sustainable development may be the organizing principle of sustainability, yet others may view the two terms as paradoxical.
The United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation is a collaborative programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), created in 2008 in response to the UNFCCC decisions on the Bali Action Plan and REDD at COP-13. It should not be confused with REDD+, a voluntary climate change mitigation approach that has been developed by Parties to the UNFCCC.
Environmental governance is a concept in political ecology and environmental policy that advocates sustainability as the supreme consideration for managing all human activities—political, social and economic. Governance includes government, business and civil society, and emphasizes whole system management. To capture this diverse range of elements, environmental governance often employs alternative systems of governance, for example watershed-based management.
Sustainable event management is the process used to produce an event with particular concern for environmental, economic and social issues. Sustainability in event management incorporates socially and environmentally responsible decision making into the planning, organisation and implementation of, and participation in, an event. It involves including sustainable development principles and practices in all levels of event organisation, and aims to ensure that an event is hosted responsibly. It represents the total package of interventions at an event, and needs to be done in an integrated manner. Event greening should start at the inception of the project, and should involve all the key role players, such as clients, organisers, venues, sub-contractors and suppliers.
The International Resource Panel is a scientific panel of experts that aims to help nations use natural resources sustainably without compromising economic growth and human needs. It provides independent scientific assessments and expert advice on a variety of areas, including:
Sustainable products are those products that provide environmental, social and economic benefits while protecting public health and environment over their whole life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials until the final disposal.
Sustainable consumer behavior is the sub discipline of consumer behavior that studies why and how consumers do or do not incorporate sustainability issues into their consumption behavior. Further, it studies the products that consumers select, how those products are used and how they are disposed of in pursuit of their individual sustainability goals.
Life cycle thinking is an approach to becoming mindful of how everyday life affects the environment. This approach evaluates how both consuming products and engaging in activities impacts the environment but it not only evaluates them at one single step, but takes a holistic picture of an entire product or activity system.
Resource efficiency is the maximising of the supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively, with minimum wasted (natural) resource expenses. It means using the Earth's limited resources in a sustainable manner while minimising environmental impact.
Sustainable Materials Management is a systemic approach to using and reusing materials more productively over their entire lifecycles. It represents a change in how a society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. By looking at a product's entire lifecycle new opportunities can be found to reduce environmental impacts, conserve resources, and reduce costs. U.S. and global consumption of materials increased rapidly during the last century. According to the Annex to the G7 Leaders’ June 8, 2015 Declaration, global raw material use rose during the 20th century at about twice the rate of population growth. For every 1 percent increase in gross domestic product, raw material use has risen by 0.4 percent. This increasing consumption has come at a cost to the environment, including habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, overly stressed fisheries and desertification. Materials management is also associated with an estimated 42 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Failure to find more productive and sustainable ways to extract, use and manage materials, and change the relationship between material consumption and growth, has grave implications for our economy and society.
Established in 1992, the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth is the United Nations General Assembly mandated, official, formal and self organised space for children and youth to contribute to and engage in certain intergovernmental and allied policy processes at the United Nations.
Bas de Leeuw is a Dutch economist and sustainability expert. He is currently Managing Director of the World Resources Forum.