The sustainable consumption concept

Fundamentally, this is about consuming differently and that suggests changing the ways goods and services are provided to meet our individual and collective needs.

Sustainable consumption calls for:

  • Absolute reductions in the material goods and energy we consume;
  • A shift in values away from material wealth and consumerism toward new measures of progress and well-being;
  • Technological innovation and efficiency gains that help us to refine production processes, creating less impact on the planet;
  • Recognition that consumption will need to increase for those individuals and communities whose needs are not being met, and
  • A transformation of our economy from one defined by continuous growth to one that functions within the very real limits of a finite planet.

It’s also about challenging the consumption imperative that drives our social and economic systems. We can support new ways for families to meet their needs and reduce some of the income pressures they may face. Providing access to shared goods and services, supporting new forms of ownership and exchange, and investing in public assets can be good for the environment and good for the family budget. It also helps to build social capital and generates some new and innovative business opportunities. It’s where we can begin to reframe and reclaim local economies.

Beyond recycling

Sustainable consumption is all about the choices made in the marketplace around production and consumption of goods long before they present a waste management problem. More »

Why efficiency is not enough

Advancing sustainable consumption will require a mix of approaches that address the “upstream” impacts of production as well as the choices made by consumers. “Greening” products by achieving more efficient use of energy and material inputs is important but evidence suggests that greater efficiency alone will not be sufficient to significantly lessen the resource impacts of our collective consumption. More »

Focus for this toolkit

Consumption can be categorized into several sectors, although some consumption habits will inevitably cut across several:

  • Housing/buildings
  • Mobility
  • Food and drink
  • Consumer goods
  • Services

This toolkit’s primary focus is on sustainable consumption of “materials” related to housing/buildings, food, and consumer goods. We focus on these three strategic areas because they have not received a lot of attention from practitioners, yet they represent important leverage points.[1] 

We choose not to focus on the energy consumption in housing/buildings or mobility because many credible resources already exist for urban sustainability directors to reduce energy use across these sectors. In fact, reducing consumption of household/building energy and transportation fuels has been a primary focus of urban sustainability programs for many years.

  1. ‍Leverage points are places within a complex system (a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in the behavior of the system. See Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System for more.