A growing number of cities are using their climate action plans (CAP) to address consumption and the related lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. Cities such as Portland, Eugene, Minneapolis, and Denver have included consumption-specific objectives and actions where typically the focus has been on waste and recycling.
Climate actions plans serve as a community blueprint for reducing emissions, and help to validate consumption as a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. The Denver CAP, for example, states that “to significantly reduce GHG emissions associated with the waste and consumption sector, it is essential to reduce the overall demand for new materials and goods.” A variety of strategies are possible, with objectives and related actions ranging in specificity and focus. A few examples include:
- Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance: Framework for Long-Term Deep Carbon Reduction Planning
Promote consumption-reduction approaches such as renting, sharing, fixing and reusing goods, as well as choosing products with lower emissions across the entire lifecycle.
- Portland Climate Action Plan (2015)
Reduce consumption-related emissions by encouraging sustainable consumption and supporting Portland businesses in minimizing the carbon intensity of their supply chains.
- Action to be completed by 2020: Develop a sustainable consumption strategy to prioritize local government activities to support a shift to lower-carbon consumption patterns.
- Eugene Community Climate and Energy Action Plan (2010)
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by addressing purchasing habits.
- High Priority Action: Educate businesses and residents about the important role of consumption in creating greenhouse gas emissions. Focus on encouraging the purchase of durable, repairable and reusable goods; reducing the amount of materials that go to waste (including food); reducing consumption of carbon-intensive consumer goods and services.
- Minneapolis Climate Action Plan (2013)
Increase awareness of the lifecycle impacts of products to address GHGs occurring outside the community.
State-level approaches can also be useful. For example, the Materials Management in Oregon: 2050 Vision and Framework for Action includes new work that can be scaled to municipal government in the areas of food waste prevention, reuse/repair, environmental product declarations for concrete, research into carbon footprints of different foods and engagement with businesses on low-carbon production.
Value Proposition for Sustainable Consumption
Cities continue to demonstrate their leadership in addressing climate change, developing CAPs as a statement of local commitment to reduce GHG emissions. By including actions to reduce the carbon footprint of consumption, they provide a powerful platform for legitimizing sustainable consumption as part of the climate solution. When these plans identify specific objectives and actions for reducing community consumption-related emissions, they become a mechanism for implementing sustainable consumption. Such planning efforts, accompanied by a work program with dedicated budget and staff resources, allow communities to pursue real reductions.
Potential City Roles
Promote—the relationship between sustainable consumption and climate change
Fund—provide grants and other financial support
Educate/outreach—provide resources and information that helps the public mitigate carbon emissions based on materials and activities that have the highest impacts.
Develop programs/services—incubate climate action programs in partnership with other organizations based on sustainable consumption assessments
Demonstrate/Own—implement internal climate action strategies, such as institutional purchasing policies, within the city that reflect the consumption based carbon emissions analysis.
Implementation Challenges and Potential Solutions
While there is a growing understanding among urban sustainability professionals of the important link between consumption and climate change, there is no established best practice for how to address this in Climate Action Plans. Without a clear sense of which specific local actions can change the impact of consumption, the strategies in a CAP may be more aspirational than actionable.
Measuring and tracking progress toward reaching the CAP goals may be difficult. Measurement tools are still under development and there are few, if any, legitimate methods for analyzing changes in local consumption patterns.
Cities like Portland, Eugene, Denver and Minneapolis, are setting important examples for bringing sustainable consumption into climate action planning. Innovation like this from leading cities is helping to legitimize and advance the work at the municipal level. Most plans, however, still emphasize waste-oriented solutions that fall short of addressing consumption and its upstream impacts. Efforts at zero waste, resource recovery and product stewardship, while important, need to be accompanied by actions that target consumption and promote low-carbon choices.