Inderscience Publishers

The environmental impact of changing consumption patterns: a survey

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How does environmental impact change when national income increases? So far, this question has been mainly discussed from the point of view of production, but in recent years several studies have dealt with the question of decoupling from the point of view of consumption. The optimistic subscribers to decoupling argue that, with increasing income, the composition of consumption changes in the direction of more environment-friendly goods and services. This paper discusses this hypothesis critically on the basis of several studies dealing with historical experience. First, it is argued that an overall assessment of the environmental impact is most appropriately based on an input approach. Then data on input intensities for different categories of consumption goods are combined with data on changes in consumption patterns, and it is concluded that the historical changes in the composition of consumption seem to have done little to counterbalance the environmental effects of growth.

Keywords: assessment of environmental impact, composition of consumption, decoupling, input approach, input intensities

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