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Mishra, A. (2014). Understanding Importance and Significance of Sustainable Household Consumption with a Review of its Literature. PHILICA.COM Article number 418.

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Understanding Importance and Significance of Sustainable Household Consumption with a Review of its Literature

Ashish Kumar Mishraunconfirmed user (Sustainable Resource Management, University of Limerick)

Published in enviro.philica.com

Sustainable Household Consumption would be one of the needs in the coming future. Understanding the factors influencing unsustainable household consumption and recent advances in the field to make it more sustainable is important. This paper talks about sustainable household consumption and its significance with respect to climate change and food scarcity and other future challenges. The paper discusses how household consumption has strong and huge impact on environment and how sustainable household consumption can make a huge difference in resisting future challenges. The paper also suggests various indicators to understand how sustainable household consumption can help in controlling environment deterioration and degradation, and indicators to measure sustainable household consumption.

Article body


Sustainable consumption is use of goods, materials and services to fulfill needs, and to upgrade or bring out better quality of life, but by making sure that in the process, the natural resources are used to the minimum, waste product coming out of the process should be minimum and should not produce emissions, and there should be no toxic material coming out to pollute the environment in any way. Apart from all that, it should be kept in mind that the process should have no bad future impact (Padanyi 2012).

Household sustainability is an important factor with significant influence on the overall sustainability and resistivity of the world towards upcoming environmental challenges. The consumption pattern of various household is different, but the sustainability of the consumption can only be determined when the consumption of the household is evaluated. (Brand and Boardman, 2008) mentioned in their report how consumption pattern of household can contribute towards environmental problems. Their report said that 10% of the household in UK are responsible for 43% greenhouse emission. (Vringer and Blok, 1995) have also supported the theory of relation between household consumption and their environmental for Dutch households and Swiss household respectively.

The need to understand household consumption and encourage sustainable household consumption is also necessary because of the high environmental impacts household consumption has, and because of the pressure it is going to create on environment if nothing is done today. Household consumptions affect environment on a day to day basis. Cumulative effect for a longer span can be huge. Factors like household energy use and efficiency, material use, waste generation, waste management etc can be significant factors in controlling impact on environment (OECD, 2002, p-3). (Lorek and Spangenberg, 2001) have also mentioned in their paper that consumption of the household without proper balance and sustainability is causing detoriation in the condition of environment. (CATE 2010) states that in order to meet the demand of the unsustainable household consumptions, the environment and ecosystem is facing tough challenges. The impact on the environment is irreversible and is affecting the ecosystem and its services greatly (CATE 2010, p-6).

 As far as impact on environment and ecology is concerned, unsustainable household consumption has huge negative impacts on environment. This is one of the probable reasons why so many researches are being carried out in the field of household sustainable consumption. Because of the unsustainable household consumption, the pressures on few of the environmental factors are going to increase dramatically. These factors include food, energy, water and waste (OECD, 2002, p-4). The pressure on food will be high and will be the result of changing food habits and dietary choices of people (OECD 2001, Household Food Consumption) . The pressure on energy is also expected to grow. The Figures provided in (OECD 2002) report states that the demand for household energy will increase by 35 percent in 2020. Water demand will also rise because of the growth in population, but the biggest impact will be on waste. Waste is expected to rise by 43 % from 1997 to 2020. Coping up with such a high amount of waste will be not only difficult, but will create additional pressure on our resources. (Lorek and Spangenberg, 2001 (p-33)) also states various indicators that can help us understand the contribution of household consumption towards controlling the impact on environment. They are as follows:

1.      Heating Energy Consumption: This will help in monitoring the energy consumption for the purpose of heating. One can also monitor how different patterns in using the insulators can help in saving energy consumption.

2.      Settlement Area: The settlements are is a key factor because that tells you how much energy over all you are consuming every day. How far are you from your work place, how much time it takes you to drive, how far do u travel do get your household things etc. The cumulative figure can make you think about it and few changes in your habits may bring out drastic change in your consumption habit.

3.      Resource Intensity: By understanding the total material and energy flow, we can understand the resource intensity being used by a particular household. Attaining a lower resource intensity will help towards attaining sustainability.

4.      Living area (per capita): Measurement of any above indicator will not give out appropriate result until and unless the comparison factor is correct. As stated in the paper, “The household consumption of an individual will be less than a 4 person household of same size.” Thus it is very important that the comparison of all the indicators is based on a per-capita system. This not only gives fair comparative results, but also tells us our individual consumption rate.

Referring to the paper by (WIER et. al., 2005), in which the study on environment impacts by household consumption is carried out in order to understand how human activity creates pressure on ecosystem and ecosystem services, we get to know various ways in which household consumptions affects environment. The paper encourages use of NAMEA (National accounting Matrices including Environmental accounting). ‘With NAMEA, a country can not only estimate one single emission indicator, but can keep a track of the emission of each unit including their relevant environmental impacts’. The paper reveals their integrated environmental assessment approach results where they find that household consumption not only is responsible for giving out a large amount of pollutant, but the pollutant coming out of the household is responsible for direct environmental effects. This proves how severely unsustainable household consumption is impacting environment (WIER et. al. 2005, (p-3)). The paper comes out with a suggestion that integrated model system with DEA approach should be used to measure the risk and pressure on environment. Using this approach with help in forming up indices through which environmental pressure and impacts could be studied and monitored.

The severity of the impact of household consumption has also been discussed by (Spangenberg and Lorek, 2002), where the household consumption rate and waste generation through them is discussed elaborately. Various methods and approaches towards measuring sustainable household consumption and the depending factors and determining indicators and their approaches forms important part of measuring sustainable development. The paper also discusses how eco-efficiency should take into account the household consumption. Waste generation, waste management, and emissions are few of the common problem that household consumption leads to. Many a times, a short span of household product might not seem important or significant, but the accumulated effect can be considerably high. Thus, the paper comes up with a new methodology to assess the impacts of household consumption on environment (Spangenberg, and Lorek, 2002, (p-7)). Assessing the ‘complete life cycle for environment impacts’ is one of the methods. The other one is to describe environmental pressures. Both these methods proposed and their impact on assessment of the environmental impacts by household consumption forms a part of the research. However, the study’s final conclusion states that the matrices based on the household consumption did show a lot of overlapping and there are numerous factors that drive household consumption. Attaining sustainable household consumption is possible by working on the driving factors.

A report by United Nations also supports that household sustainability consumption is a highly important factor as far as environmental impact is concerned. In the UN report, household consumption has been determined to be one of the primary causes of degradation of environment. The UN report states ‘the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries’ to be a ‘major cause of the continued degradation of the global environment’ (United Nations, 1993, chapter 4).

In the CONSENSUS report by (Fahy et. al. 2011), study on the consumption in Ireland clearly reflects how hugely it impacts the environment. ‘Alone energy is responsible for 66% of the greenhouse gas emission in Ireland’ (Fahy et. al. 2011). The study reflects that lack of enough policies, and lack of substantial pressure on the people of Ireland to think more about sustainable consumption is one of the primary reasons why the country is not attaining sustainability. Without proper policies, and their appropriate implementation, attaining sustainability will be difficult. The paper mentions systems and policies of Sweden which has developed a lot in terms of sustainability. There are various factors that support sustainability in Sweden, and one being their better policy implementation. The paper also suggests few important measures that can be taken on the legal front to ensure that household consumption comes under the circumferences of sustainability.

(OECD Paris; 1999) report reflects their study on the indicators that determines the sustainable household consumption. The study included in it is basically determining the indicators which helps in understanding whether sustainable household consumption is being achieved or not, and if it is achieved, how can it be monitored or measured. Various impacts of consumption on environment and the fields that will be under pressure are studied minutely. Policies relevant to the under pressure spheres of environment is also taken into account, and is studied in order to see how they work towards attaining sustainability. Indicator framework approach to establish an understanding of sustainable household consumption is one of the key factors of this report. The report comes up with some of the proposed indicators that can be used to determine how sustainable a household consumption is. This is a big advantage as sustainability measuring factors are always the toughest one to choose, and if that is found, tracking the efforts towards sustainability will become easier. The report also comes out with alternative methods and different approaches towards understanding and measuring sustainable household consumption. Few of the indicators that were mentioned are:

·         GDP

·         Economic per- capita income

·         Transport

·         Food consumption

·         Paper use and recycling

·         Waste generation and waste management

·         Energy consumption

·         Water consumption

·         Waste water treatment etc

The indicator focuses almost on all the spheres and the approach will be a framework of all of these to understand consumption attributes and behavior, and based on it will be the sustainability plan.

Another important factor about consumption and its environmental impact was raised by a research paper of (Omann et. al.). The paper focused on the consumption pattern of various households in Austria and their environmental impacts. Interestingly, the consumption pattern of different households was studied and their relevant environmental impacts were determined. The paper stated, "For reversing non-sustainable trends in food consumption, it is essential to focus on the consumption by different consumer groups and households, due to differences in socio-economic characteristics and in lifestyle". The paper used Austrian Household Budget Survey 1999/2000 to base their research. As food consumption was their main observant, thus, the indicators they used were emission and waste generation. The research was supporting the theory by (White 2000), in which it was found that the ecological footprint of meat eaters is more than that of vegetarians. The paper also states, “Concerning environmental effects, high income households, highly educated and those in high positions have the highest CO2 emissions according to their preferences; high income, young households and those in high positions have the highest material inputs. If their share of vegetables and fruits relative to meat is taken into account, their negative status is decreased, except for the young households. Their environmental effects are nevertheless among the high ones. This result is supported by the preferences of those households for easy-to-prepare-food. Concerning age, young people are less environmentally friendly than older ones". This meant that people with more knowledge and understanding of environmental problems and sustainability were actually causing more harm to it. Food habits of the ‘sufficient ones’ was less environment friendly than those who were not very much ‘sufficient’.

Another important and interesting study was carried out in the field of household consumption, but with relevance to Globalization in (Fuchs and Lorek; 2000). The main objective of this study was to find a relationship between globalization and household consumption in industrial countries. In order to do the, cluster of consumption selected was food, energy and transport. The paper covers the determinants of all the three cluster of consumption and also understands the core element of globalization. Understanding these two segments that gives out a comparative study of the elements of Globalization and its possible influence on determinants of household consumption. The paper came up with a conclusion that consumption is hugely influenced by globalization. As stated in the paper, “the consumption areas identified as most in need of improvement are those most strongly influenced by globalization. In consequence, political and social decision-makers need to "think global" when designing policies for sustainable consumption. The elements of globalization cannot be controlled and modified by one government. Multilateral if not global strategies that directly address those elements are needed. Targeting the influence of globalization on the sustainability of food, mobility, and energy consumption thus goes beyond the influence of national and local policies for sustainable household consumption and creates a completely new set of political challenges for sustainable consumption policies” (Fuchs and Lorek; 2000). The paper also focuses on the fact that in order to keep consumption unaffected from globalization, we need international policies which could hold sustainability in household consumptions, and could be above the national policies. Globalization is an international phenomenon, and to protect anything from an international phenomenon, international policy and legislation is required.

A research reflecting Canada’s stand on sustainable consumption reflects important factors that should be considered in our approach towards sustainability (Padanyi 2012). The paper focuses on where the consumers in Canada are at the current stage as far as sustainable consumption is concerned. Along with that, the paper also looks at the immediate plans and measures that retailer and consumer marketers should do in order to bring out sustainable household consumption in Canada. The study suggests the approach that can be taken in any country in order to make sustainability a success. The action plan is divided into stages, which comprises of modes like identification of problem, information gathering, alternative planning etc. Apart from all these, post purchase study is also included in the study of this particular research to understand what consumers do after purchasing a product. This will help in understanding the behavior and attributes of consumers towards products and will thus be able to figure out a suitable waste management scheme.

Another important idea that supports sustainable household consumption is sustainable homes. These are new modern technology equipped home built specially with design to promote and support sustainability. A study suggest that smart and sustainable homes are of great help when it comes to sustainable household consumption (Smart and sustainable Homes, 2008). The main elements of household consumption are energy, food and water. With the help of sustainable homes, all these main elements can be controlled. For instance, most of the sustainable homes are equipped with solar panel which uses the solar power and converts it into electricity for most of the small electrical work. Engineering design is used in such a way that heat waste coming out of one appliance is stored and used for other appliance like water boiler etc. The material with which the building is made is also engineered so that it acts as a good insulators, and thus, traps heat inside during winters and doesn't allows heat come in during summers. Apart from that drainage system and waste management system is also engineered with technology so that they are also used for the best possible purpose.


After reviewing various papers on sustainable household consumption, I finally conclude that household consumption really plays a very vital role in environmental impact. Household consumption has a great contribution towards emission and waste generation, and thus impacts of it are also quite high. It is also very clear to me now that in order to attain sustainable development, we have to have a society with sustainable household consumption. In order to be prepared and to be resistant towards changes in future, and for the upcoming environmental challenges, sustainable household consumption is going to be our key strength. However, there are various factors and drivers on which the household consumption is based on, and are quite complicated and difficult to understand. Thus, these factors will have to be taken under control, and will have to be studied properly in order to come up with a suitable plan to implement SUSTAINABILITY.


·         Brand, C., Boardman, B., 2008. Taming of the few - The unequal distribution of greenhouse gas emissions from personal travel in the UK. Energy Policy 36, 224-238.

·         Building Sustainable household by using recycled items  on http://earthship.com/ -  (Accessed on 10-03-2013)

·         CATE , 2010, Consumption And The Environment, State and Outlook, The European Environment Agency, [web link : http://tinyurl.com/22kxyuk , accessed on 10-3-2013]

·         Fahy F., Rau H., Pape J., Davies A.;2011; Exploring Policies and Instruments for Sustainable Household Consumption in Ireland; Journal of Consumer Policy, CONSENSUS

·         Fuchs D.A. and Lorek S.; 2000; An inquiry into the impact of globalization on the potential for ‘sustainable consumption’ in households; Workshop on Sustainable Household Consumption: Impacts, Goals and Indicators for Energy-Use, Transport and Food, ProSus/CSTM, Enschede.

·         Kallay T. and Szlezak J.; 2010; Examples of National Policies to Promote Sustainable Household Consumption; The European topic Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production

·         Lorek S. and. Spangenberg J. H , 2002; Environmentally sustainable household consumption: from aggregate environmental pressures to priority fields of action, Ecological Economics, pp. 3-14.

·         Lorek S. and. Spangenberg J. H, 2001, Environmentally Sustainable Household Consumption, From Aggregate Environment Pressures to Indicators for Priority Fields of Action, for Wuppertal Institute of Climate, Environment and Energy, Germany, ISSN 0949 5266

·         OECD [2001], Household Food Consumption: Trends, Environmental Impacts and Policy Responses, International Journal of Sustainable Developement, Vol. 4, no. 1.

·         OECD Paris; 1999; Towards More Sustainable household Consumption Patterns-Indicators to Measure Progress, Environment Directorate, Environment Policy Committee, Code : ENV/EPOC/SE(98)2/FINAL

·         OECD, 2002, Organization for Economic C-Operation and Development, Towards Sustainable Household Consumption, OECD Observer, pp. 6-12.

·         Omann et. al. (No Date); The environmental effects of food consumption for different household categories [Web Link : http://seri.at/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/ESEE-2007-sufotrop-Presentation1.pdf  accessed on 10-03-2013]

·         Padanyi P. S.,2012; Helping Canadian Households Achieve Their Sustainability Goals; College of Management and Economics, University of Guelph [Weblink: http://www.sustainability2015.ca/images/stakeholders_our_stakeholders/Helping%20Canadian%20Households%20Achieve%20Their%20Sustainability%20Goals.pdf accessed on 10-03-2013]

·         Smart and Sustainable Homes, 2008; Queensland Department of Public Works [weblink: http://www.hpw.qld.gov.au/construction/Sustainability/SmartSustainableHomes/Pages/Default.aspx accessed on 10-03-2013]

·          Sustainable Household designs at http://www.ecosystemhomes.com.au/ - (accessed on 10-03-2013)

·         Timmer V., Prinet E. and Timmer D.; 2009; Sustainable Household Consumption-Key considerations and Elements for a Canadian strategy; Office of Consumer affairs and Industry, Canada

·         United Nations Sustainable Development; 1992; Agenda 21, United Nations Conference on Environment & Development, Rio-De-Janerio, Brazil,  chap -4 [web link: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/Agenda21.pdf accessed on 10-03-2013]

·         Vringer, K., Blok, K., 1995. The direct and indirect energy requirement of households in the Netherlands, Energy policy, 23(10).

·         White, T. (2000), Diet and the distribution of environmental impact. Ecological Economics 34 (234)PP.145-15

·         WIER et. Al., 2005, Evaluating Sustainability of Household Consumption—Using DEA to Assess Environmental Performance, Economic System Research, vol. 17 no. 4, pp. 425-447.

Information about this Article
Peer-review ratings (from 2 reviews, where a score of 100 represents the ‘average’ level):
Originality = 175.00, importance = 150.00, overall quality = 175.00
This Article was published on 5th August, 2014 at 11:15:22 and has been viewed 2601 times.

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The full citation for this Article is:
Mishra, A. (2014). Understanding Importance and Significance of Sustainable Household Consumption with a Review of its Literature. PHILICA.COM Article number 418.

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1 Peer review [reviewer #51143unconfirmed user] added 15th August, 2014 at 10:29:56

The paper has following reviews:
1. The paper should have more information on sustainable practices.
2. Reasons for selecting particular paper for review should be stated as well.
I would request to add up examples of sustainable practices

Originality: 7, Importance: 6, Overall quality: 7

2 Peer review [reviewer #76713unconfirmed user] added 28th July, 2016 at 01:54:10

The article understanding Importance and Significance of Sustainable Household Consumption with a Review of its Literature is very good article.
Originality: 7, Importance 6, and Overall quality is 7.
The article understanding Importance and Significance of Sustainable Household Consumption with a Review of its Literature is very good article.
Originality: 7, Importance 6, and Overall quality is 7

Originality: 7, Importance: 6, Overall quality: 7

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