Consuming sustainably means buying more consciously and in any case taking into account the social and ecological aspects of products and services. This text addresses this distinction and discusses how sustainability can be assessed in terms of consumer behavior.
What is the importance of consumption?
Sustainable consumption is part of a sustainable lifestyle and consumer behavior that takes ecological and social aspects into account when purchasing and using products and services. It also influences usage behavior and disposal behavior in everyday life. First of all, it can be said that sustainability is the principle of action for the use of resources.
In order to narrow down the whole topic, however, it is important to first deal with the sole term “consumption”. However, a complete elaboration of the topic is only possible to a limited extent. “Consumption” refers to anything that people “consume” in everyday things, such as food. Consumption also includes items of clothing or CDs that you do not wear but use.
Beyond the pure definition, the topic has many different meanings. Even in sociology, the question of consumption plays a decisive role. The so-called “consumption sociology” is a special kind of science and deals with all forms of behavior and activity of consumers, their causes and development. As such, it also fulfills a larger part of economic sociology.
The connection between consumption and sustainability
In order to understand the connection correctly, it is important to point out that the actions as such are not meant in everything, but rather the consequences caused by the actions. At this point, the intention behind these actions is often considered. It is therefore relevant to look at the whole thing in terms of an impact and an intention-related assessment.
From an ecological point of view, the benefits achieved can only be determined by previous criteria. Thinking further, the choice (selection), acquisition (acquisition) and disposal or transfer (scheduling) must be included. These points arise because consumption in the narrower sense is understood as the use and consumption of goods and services.
In this regard, we’ve come a long way over the years. Futurologist Allvin Toffler published his book Future Shock in 1970. He developed the future prognosis of a global “super-industrial” society. The ultimate goal of this prognosis was to leave the industrial age behind and deal with new forms of employment.
In his opinion, machines should do the routine work and humans the intellectual and creative activities. On the topic of consumption, Toffler said: “In the future, consumers will collect experiences just as consciously and passionately as they once collected things”.
Fast-moving disposable items were therefore not an option for him. That is why he often speaks, for example, of the increasing hybridization of production and consumption, for example in everyday shopping in self-service shops or in the context of “do-it-yourself” projects.
This in turn raises the first question: what happens to consumption when we include it in the normative discourse of sustainable development? For this, the “Brundtland Report”, formulated in 1987 by the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, a very good core statement:
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of today’s generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
This report was not only the basis for a global debate on sustainable development strategies. It also summarizes the topic in three dimensions and offers good points of reference for politics and business. So it can be said that the aim of sustainable development is to enable people to lead a good life now and in the future. As a result, universal qualities and abilities can be developed.
The extent to which the use of consumer goods by the individual contributes to the creation or maintenance of the necessary external conditions is decisive for assessing the sustainability of individual consumer behavior.
This results in the following opportunities
In this way, sustainable consumption extends to people’s individual lifestyles. The sustainable consumer is the ecologically and socially responsible citizen. But what options does he have? Can consumers make a difference in these areas through active action?
Food as a consumable
Food is a consumable because it is consumed directly. In this context it is relevant to mention the production and consumption of food constitutes a massive environmental burden. According to the Federal Environment Agency, a total of 60 percent of the loss of animal and plant species can be attributed to this.
When shopping for groceries, the respective packaging should be examined more closely. Both the tasks, areas of application and food packaging materials have a central role.
In addition to protection against external influences, the packaging serves to protect against germs and, above all, to facilitate transport. With regard to conscious shopping behavior, it can be stated that packaging materials have very different uses. Therefore, the impact on the environment can be very different. In order to evaluate them according to their sustainability, it is therefore necessary to consider the entire life cycle.
However, there are some tips we can keep in mind when buying and consuming food:
- Avoiding food waste
- food sharing
- Planned shopping
- Consciously use the best-before date
- Note storage of food
Irrespective of the sustainability aspect, a number of new business and revenue models for internet services and forms of distribution have been developed in recent years. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this is a great opportunity for sustainability.
Studies show good resource productivity. Environmental pollution is primarily caused by logistics and transport. With some portals, the products can be picked up directly from the neighborhood. In this case, there are no long transport routes or storage times.
In addition, ownership takes on a whole new meaning. For example, electronic devices are no longer just bought in stores, but an entire community gives advice on the product. That is why the offer on platforms such as “eBay” is increasingly perceived as an enrichment. Which products can be purchased on these platforms?
- technology goods
- Short-lived goods such as fashion
- Cultural goods such as books and films
- Collectibles such as coins and stamps
In addition, many factors can be named that influence our ecological balance. This applies above all to the nationwide sale of used goods. Some of them are:
- Distance over which the item must be transported
- Shipping items applicable to wounds may apply
- user behavior
- new or used goods
In most cases, the products offered are not new. Instead, older products find a new use instead of being thrown away. This increases their value and has a positive effect on our environmental balance sheet.
However, one should always consider which other factors play a role. In some cases, buying a new one can even be more sustainable. For example, if articles are offered on a platform that have a very long transport route.
In this case, it is important to consider the entire cycle and then assess the sustainability. The consumer can therefore influence market processes. Because economics refers to both companies and households.
It’s not just about the classic supply-demand model. It is also related to the increasingly scarce resources. As explained in this report, actions and decisions have a significant impact on the social and environmental impacts of mass consumption and production.