Why take action on sustainable consumption?
We uncover new solutions
Sustainable consumption is a different lens that reveals additional levers for advancing urban sustainability. Here are a couple examples:
- Consider how consumption-based carbon emissions inventories provide insights to guide the design of new local programs—for instance, programs targeting carbon intensive consumption categories or high emissions life cycle phases such as the production and use phases of goods.
- A consumption lens can also lead to new programs for key population segments such as millennials and people pursuing alternative lifestyles who are pioneering lower impact / sustainable ways of living, as well as baby boomers who are seeking ways to downsize while maintaining quality of life and autonomy.
We can’t ignore consumption
Achieving urban sustainability requires addressing consumption directly because it:
tackles the root causes of many of our environmental and social ills.
For example, instead of dealing with waste at the ‘end-of-life’, a sustainable consumption lens emphasizes upstream solutions: influencing decisions made by producers and consumers which prevent waste by reducing the number of goods or by changing how they are produced and consumed (see initiatives on food waste prevention).
The Sustainability Filter questions in this toolkit are a useful guide for assessing whether sustainable consumption initiatives are addressing these root causes and drivers.
complements traditional sustainability programming especially over longer time horizons.
The way we consume is a driver of virtually all local sustainability programs including resource conservation, water, waste, and energy. Because consumption is a driver, it needs to be part of the solution.
We achieve multiple benefits across a range of city priorities
Sustainable consumption provides a powerful framework for taking a systemic, integrated approach. It enables us to implement several urban sustainability agendas that have been moving in parallel for years—climate action, social equity, sustainable economic development, social connection, and wellbeing. The cross-cutting nature of sustainable consumption initiatives often results in multiple benefits, for example:
- Repair cafés/fix-it clinics not only reduce waste through repairing goods but also reveal new opportunities for building greater social connectivity across diverse populations and for learning new skills.
- Food waste prevention programs not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also enable meal recovery programs, job creation and water conservation
- Tool libraries not only shift consumption to be more efficient by sharing goods, it also encourages concepts of neighbourliness and cooperation leading to social cohesion.
Many cities are already adopting an integrated approach to their sustainability programs by using The STAR Communities Rating System—the leading North American sustainability framework and certification program designed for and by local governments—and sustainable consumption initiatives can help them achieve healthy, inclusive and prosperous communities. See Measurement for more detail.
There is clear value in taking action on sustainable consumption. The good news is that citizens are interested in slowing the pace and complexity of life, sharing more, wasting less, and being more healthy and economically secure (see Cara Pike research). Through addressing consumption, local governments can reduce material and energy use while enhancing the hallmarks of community wellbeing: time with friends and family, strong community ties, a sense of belonging that transcends material consumption. Cities are well positioned to advance sustainable consumption through community partnerships, policy, regulation and innovation.