Household Consumption and the Environment

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Providing input for European policy-making

Ten years after the Rio conference, the agreement at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg to develop a framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production (SCP) marked a renewed global policy-focus.

Reflecting this renewed focus, SCP EU policy-making is now on the agenda. The European Council at its meeting in March 2003 agreed to 'timely elaboration at both international and EU level of the 10-year framework of programmes on SCP, on which the EU should take the lead' (European Council, 2003). In September 2004, the Commissioner for the Environment, Stavros Dimas, speaking to the European Parliament said that one of his four priorities during his term in office would be 'to find the path to more sustainable patterns of production and consumption' (European Commission, 2004a).

In spite of the renewed policy-focus on SCP, growth in European household consumption is a major cause of increased environmental pressures. Household consumption forms an important part of the production-consumption chain as it is the consumer who makes the final choice about which goods and services s/he consumes. Although the environmental impact of each household is relatively small compared with that of production acitivities, millions of households in Europe are major contributors to environmental problems such as climate change, air pollution, water pollution, land use and waste (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2002a).

This report analyses the environmental effects and environmental sustainability of household consumption in Europe. It builds and expands on the work done by OECD (OECD, 2002a; 2002b) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on sustainable consumption (UNEP, 2001; 2003; 2004; 2005) and applies this analysis to Europe. The report provides substantial and analytical input to European policy processes on SCP. It also provides information and analysis for informed (conscious) consumers and citizens of EEA member countries.

By analysing research and reports carried out by researchers and international organisations (see for example Michaelis and Lorek, 2004; OECD, 2002a; Worldwatch Institute, 2004; and IPTS/ESTO 2005), we have identified four major consumption categories that form part of our total consumption expenditure and for which the environmental effects are either great or increasing rapidly. These are consumption of food and drink; housing; personal travel and mobility; and tourism.

Negative environmental effects of European consumption in other regions of the world

The negative environmental effects of our consumption not only occur in Europe, but also in other regions of the world, mainly as a result of resource extraction, production, processing and transportation in other regions because of the goods we consume in Europe and our personal travel and tourist activities.

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