Sustainable consumption and production
To live within our resources, we need to achieve more with less. This requires us to change the way we design, produce, use and dispose of the products and services we own and consume.
These pages have been developed to provide insight into some of the problems associated with current patterns of consumption and production in developed countries like the UK, and the action being taken to reduce that burden and move us towards 'one planet living'.
Use the index below to find out more about the four priority areas for action: Products and services; production; consumption; and the role of business. For advice and support on tackling sustainable consumption and production issues, use the links in the right hand navigation.
- The problem with the way we produce and consume goods and services
- A new way of doing business:
- How to create better products and services
- How to improve resource efficiency
- How to encourage sustainable consumption
- How to develop a responsible business
- Are we heading in the right direction?
- Buy Sustainable - Quick Wins
- For more detailed guidance businesses please visit the government website Business Link and its pages on sustainability in businesses
new paradigm that sees economic growth, social justice and environmental
care advancing together can become the common sense of our age."
Gordon Brown, April 06
The problem with the way we produce and consume goods
Today we live in both a carbon constrained and water constrained world. Pressures on the environment are increasing as world population grows and parts of society become wealthier. The planet's renewable resources - like water, timber or fish - are rapidly being exhausted and our use and disposal of non-renewable resources are radically altering our environment.
The extent to which we are using resources, including the 'sinks' we rely on to deal with the waste we produce, means that the chances of developing countries - and future generations - to have access to their fair share of resources are threatened.
Our own wellbeing and quality-of-life, as well as the health of ecosystems, are becoming increasingly compromised by pollution and over-exploitation of resources. A situation created, in large part, by our enormous, collective consumer appetite.
A new way of doing business
Current production practices and consumption levels are the source of many of the environmental challenges we face, requiring us to urgently develop products and services using fewer resources and to prevent waste. This will certainly mean using cleaner technologies, but it will also require new ideas to encourage us to meet our needs in different, less harmful ways. Today, we need to innovate to redesign products, rethink business models and restructure systems.
While Government has an important role to play in stimulating companies to act through incentives, rewards and the threat of penalties, it is ultimately businesses that will deliver a supply of goods and services that are less damaging and more resource efficient. We need to reach a situation where companies regard environmental care as important as customer care.
Forward-thinking companies are already seeing the opportunities that this presents and the benefits it can have to the bottom-line by driving down costs, opening up markets through innovation, and enhancing reputations and brand value.
How to develop better products and services
People need to be able to choose to live more sustainable lifestyles. However, in many instances, consumers are denied any real choice as many of the avoidable impacts of what we use and buy are already 'designed in' long before they reach consumers.
Some innovative producers are using eco-design tools to rethink products and services; creating goods that perform as well or better than conventional products, using resources more productively, reducing pollution and improving profitability.
To find out more about the financial, social and environmental benefits of incorporating eco-design into products and services, please see the government’s Business Link advice on design and innovation for sustainability.
How to improve resource efficiency
With rising energy and waste costs, tougher environmental legislation and higher stakeholder expectations, organisations are increasingly focusing their attention on improving production practices to both enhance performance and demonstrate responsible behaviour.
Improved resource productivity has the potential to drive down costs by reducing raw material use, waste and pollution. The penalties for failing to manage environmental risks properly can also be substantial, whether in terms of lost reputation, loss of the licence to operate, build or market, or straight financial penalties.
To find out more about improving resource efficiency, with an emphasis on cutting carbon emissions and waste, visit Business Link.
How to encourage sustainable consumption
Current consumption patterns similar to those of the UK could not be replicated worldwide. Some calculations suggest that this would require three planets' worth of resources. Instead we need to move towards 'one planet living'.
There is huge potential for better products and production practices to deliver improvements without the need for behaviour change on the part of consumers. However, a sustainable society will require that all sectors - businesses, public sector and households - consume differently and more efficiently.
To find out more about the government’s work on behaviour change towards sustainable consumption practices visit the behaviour change section of this website or visit Defra’s website for information of their pro-environmental behaviours framework.
How to develop a responsible business
Many businesses have realised that acting in a socially and environmentally responsible manner is more than just an ethical duty for a company. It is something that affects the bottom-line.
Sustainable development is an area of risk that, when managed effectively, can create opportunities. Companies can make financial savings on energy costs, reduced inputs, waste disposal and compliance with regulations. They can enhance reputation and brand value, fostering customer loyalty and motivating staff. Companies can also use it as an opportunity to encourage innovation, increase investment and open up new markets.
To find out more about creating a responsible business, including reducing carbon emissions and waste, environmental management and reporting, and sustainable innovation, visit the sustainability guidance on the Government’s Business Link website..
Are we heading in the right direction?
The Government's strategy for delivering sustainable development, Securing the Future, commits it to strengthening the evidence on sustainable consumption and production (SCP) issues. A number of broad themes have been identified as early priority areas for research including; the scale of the challenge, sustainable consumption, and the environmental performance and competitiveness of business. The SCP Evidence Base Research Programme 2005/06 includes a range of projects falling within these themes. The Sustainable Development Research Network, a Defra-funded initiative, is another good source of information on SCP research.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is also committed to developing a better understanding of the eco-footprinting methodology and its value for policy development. The 'one planet living' concept, developed by WWF, draws on eco-footprinting methodologies which are an attempt to develop an overall measure of the pressures placed by our production and consumption patterns on the environment, including those impacts which may occur overseas.
Embedded in the sustainable development strategy are also Government indicators used to measure progress in the four priority areas for action. Key indicators of sustainable consumption and production include those showing the extent of 'decoupling' (how successfully we are breaking the link between economic growth and environmental damage) as well as indicators that demonstrate resource use and waste.
For a full list and to find out more about sustainable consumption and production indicators, visit the Indicators page.
The 'Buy Sustainable - Quick Wins' list is specifically designed for procurers. It is a set of sustainable standards for a range of commonly-purchased products, such as IT equipment, white goods, paper, etc. The products assessed were chosen for their environmental/financial impact, scope for environmental improvement and political or example-setting function.
The 'Buy Sustainable - Quick Win' list is a set of mandatory standards at the market average level, but best practice specifications have been introduced in 2008. These specifications are more stretching than the minimum and are for procurers that wish to purchase the “best in class” products in certain areas. These will eventually become the minimum over different time periods depending on the product or product group.
All UK government departments have sustainable operations targets to meet, covering areas such as energy efficiency, water consumption, waste, etc. To find out more, visit the Buy Sustainable - Quick Wins page.
Updated: 5 February 2009