How do we measure consumption in our communities? And how do we know if we’re advancing more sustainable practices?

As the field of sustainable consumption is taking shape, some of the metrics and tools we need to measure consumption levels and gauge our effectiveness are also being developed.   There are some very useful models and analytical methodologies available to cities beginning this work.

Below you can find resources for to help you with:

  • Estimating consumption-related greenhouse gas emissions
  • Evaluating the social, economic and environmental impacts of shifts in consumption
  • Estimating the carbon intensity of goods and services both at the household and institutional levels
  • Creating new measures of economic and ecological health that reflect the principles of sustainable consumption

Selected Resources

  • The STAR Communities Rating System (STAR) was built by and for local government to assess their sustainability, set targets for moving forward, and measure progress along the way. View examples of how STAR metrics align with sustainable consumption areas.
  • The EPA USEEIO model is a national-scope environmental life cycle model of goods and services for quantifying impacts of production and consumption, assessing organization-wide impacts, identifying purchasing hot spots, analyzing environmental impacts of policies, and performing streamlined life cycle assessment. 
  • The Social Hotspots Database is designed for improving social conditions worldwide by providing the data and the tools necessary for improved visibility of social hotspots in product supply chains.
  • The Consumption Based Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory (CBEI) description in this toolkit provides an overview of CBEIs and links to other useful resources.  
  • Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Consumption Based Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories page explains the CBEI methodology and shows results for CBEIs performed in Oregon since 2005, among other resources.
  • The West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum Climate Action Toolkit offers a comprehensive resource with tools and information for Greenhouse Gas inventories, climate protection actions, climate action planning, metrics, and other resources through the lenses of materials management and sustainable consumption and production.
  • The West Coast Climate and Materials Management Forum ToolKit for Climate Friendly Purchasing provides suggestions and resources for institutional purchasing policies that meet climate action objectives in the areas of food, information and communication technology, flooring, urban infrastructure, diesel fuels and professional services.
  • The Ecological Footprint approach provides a measure of the Earth’s supply of natural resources and humanity’s demand on nature that is relatable and accessible to lay users.
  • The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) was created as an alternative measure that, like GDP, is monetized and thus able to be used in forecasting, policy analysis, and benefit-cost analysis. The GPI is designed to incorporate many of the costs and benefits overlooked by GDP but which have a significant bearing on the economic wellbeing of nations, states, and cities.
  • Sustainable Consumption and Cities: Approaches to measuring social, economic, and environmental impacts in cities is a USDN Innovation Product that defines sustainable consumption, develops metrics, and assesses the degree to which sustainable consumption activities contribute to triple bottom line goals. Case study evaluations include repair, rental, and reuse programs, a tool library, and car-sharing and ride-sharing programs.
Much of modern life is based upon a false logic, a logic that assumes that happiness and well-being come from financial prosperity…The time is ripe for our measurement system to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being.
—Nic Marks The Happiness Manifesto