Towards Sustainable Household Consumption

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Towards Sustainable Household Consumption?
What is Consumption? What is Sustainable Consumption? Why is household consumption important? Environmental pressures from consumption will intensify Driving forces behind consumption patterns What is the role of government in promoting sustainable consumption? Policies to promote sustainable consumption General policy framework on sustainable consumption Broad policy guidelines to promote sustainable household consumption Some Unresolved Policy Questions For Further Reading Where to contact us?

Trends and Policies in OECD Countries
Introduction
Changing unsustainable household consumption patterns is crucial for achieving the goal of sustainable development in OECD countries. Households affect the environment through their energy and water consumption, waste generation, transport patterns and food choices. For many years, environmental policies were focused on the production side, mainly through pollution control and eco-efficiency. Household consumption patterns, and the drivers behind them, were poorly understood. This has made it difficult in the past to identify the appropriate role of governments in promoting more sustainable consumption patterns, and for the choice and implementation of different policy instruments. Is achieving sustainable consumption in OECD societies an insurmountable challenge? Looking ahead to the nature and size of the problem in OECD countries, the challenge appears daunting – even without considering the still greater implications of a global community consuming in the style and on the scale of OECD countries. Ten years after the 1992 Earth Summit, what can be said about the progress made in addressing the environmental impacts of household consumption patterns and what are the future priorities for action? Analysis shows that environmental impacts from household activities have worsened over the last three decades. And they are expected to intensify even more over the next twenty years – particularly in the areas of energy, transport and waste – if strong and comprehensive policies are not implemented. To help countries to change unsustainable consumption patterns, the OECD has been working actively on sustainable consumption issues since 1994. The results of this work have recently been released in a synthesis publication Towards Sustainable Household Consumption? Trends and Policies in OECD Countries (OECD, 2002). This publication includes a comprehensive analysis of household consumption patterns in five key areas: food, tourism-

© OECD 2002

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

July 2002

POLICY BRIEF

Policy Brief

Towards Sustainable Household Consumption?

related travel, energy, water and waste generation in OECD countries. It presents trends in household consumption and related environmental impacts and explores the forces that shape household decisions. The publication also outlines the framework for government policies and the role of specific types of policy instruments to help households reduce their environmental impacts. It identifies lessons learned from the experiences of OECD Member countries so far with various policies to promote more sustainable consumption. s

goods and services are provided outside markets, through such institutions as the family and the natural environment, and can be consumed. Because they have no market value, non-marketed goods and services may be over-consumed (e.g. biodiversity, marine resources). s

What is Sustainable Consumption?
The term sustainable consumption is defined along the lines of the Brundtland definition for sustainable development as: "the use of goods and services that respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life, while minimising the use of natural resources, toxic materials and emissions of waste and pollutants over the life-cycle, so as not to jeopardise the needs of future generations" (Norwegian Ministry of Environment,...
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