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Sustainable consumption is the use of products and services that have a minimal impact on the environment so future generations can meet their needs. Learn about the benefits and the complexities that are associated with sustainable consumption.

Consumption

Why are products produced? Well, the simplest answer is so they can be consumed. A pizza shop makes pizzas, so customers can buy them and eat them.

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A car manufacturer builds cars for commuters to buy and use during their daily travels. And energy companies generate power, so consumers can use electricity to turn on lights in their homes. When consumers consume goods and services, the economy grows because there is more money changing hands.However, the production of goods and services uses raw materials provided by the environment, such as water, timbers and fossil fuels.

Therefore, meeting the desires of the consumer for more goods and services can lead to more industrial and manufacturing processes, which can deplete resources and increase pollution. In this lesson, we will take a look at how consumption can be handled in ways that minimize damage to the environment, so products and services are available for future generations to consume.

Sustainable Consumption

Sustainable consumption is the use of products and services in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment, so that human needs can be met not only in the present but also for future generations.

When sustainable consumption is practiced, resources are used wisely and waste products and pollution are minimized. The main way this is achieved is by doing more and better with less. In other words, we can find ways to meet our needs and desires without depleting our planet’s finite natural resources.This might include carpooling, using renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, developing alternative fuel sources, such as biofuels, for our transportation needs and using environmentally friendly cleaning products. Practicing sustainable consumption can ensure that the environment has resources available long into the future. However, in most industrialized and developed nations, consumption patterns are not sustainable.Their products and services rely on too many natural resources and create too many harmful emissions when consumed.

For example, most developed countries rely on non-renewable fossil fuels for their transportation needs. As more drivers hit the roads and more fuel is consumed, fossil fuel reserves are depleted, and because fossil fuels emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned, more consumption means more pollution.This level of consumption cannot be sustained due to the depletion of the non-renewable resource and the adverse effects to the environment. Of course, unsustainable consumption patterns are not just a problem for developed countries, but also for many developing countries.

In developing nations, consumption patterns can be unsustainable because citizens of these countries may need to exploit their natural resources to meet their basic living needs. For example, subsistence farming, which is farming that provides only for the farmer’s needs without surplus for the market, requires the clearing of woodlands to make room for farms and is one of the leading causes of deforestation. This can lead to environmental damage, such as soil erosion, drier climates and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Complexities of Sustainable Consumption

We see that there are many complexities of sustainable consumption that need to be considered. For example, the consumption of goods drives a strong economy. However, unsustainable consumption patterns degrade the environment, deplete natural resources and hamper the ability of future generations to provide for their basic needs.

Therefore, the goals of economic growth may conflict with the goals of sustainable consumption.Another hurdle to overcome with sustainable consumption is low consumer awareness. People simply do not know the environmental cost of the products they buy and the services they use.

For sustainable consumption to be embraced, there is first the need to overcome ingrained thinking and behavior patterns among consumers.Another complexity arises when we consider the social costs in developing countries. For example, if a farmer needs to practice subsistence farming in order to feed his family, yet this practice leads to the destruction of a forest ecosystem, is it acceptable to deny the farmer this practice?Lastly, sustainable consumption is faced with the fact that there is a lack of sustainable products and services available on the market. For example, there have been some strides in the manufacture of more environmentally friendly products, such as biodegradable items.

There has also been an increase in the use of sustainable energy services, such as solar and wind power. However, production of these products and services is currently insufficient to meet the needs of the growing population.

Lesson Summary

Sustainable consumption is the use of products and services in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment, so that human needs can be met not only in the present but also for future generations. The main way this is achieved is by doing more and better with less, which might include carpooling, using renewable energy sources, developing alternative fuel sources and using environmentally friendly cleaning products.There are many complexities of sustainable consumption that need to be considered. For example, the goals of economic growth may conflict with the goals of sustainable consumption.

Also, sustainable consumption must overcome low consumer awareness, the social costs in developing countries and a lack of sustainable products and services available on the market.

Learning Outcomes

After completion of the lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define sustainable consumption and subsistence farming
  • Discuss the problems associated with sustainable consumption

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