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62 ways of enabling sustainable consumption: A collection of examples from research in Mistra Sustainable Consumption

  • Published on June 30, 2022

Consumption in Sweden is currently far from sustainable because the goods we consume cause extensive negative consequences for both people and the environment. Within the Mistra Sustainable Consumption research program, researchers have identified a number of ways in which living and consuming, in the areas of food, vacationing and home furnishing, could help achieve more sustainable consumption. Within the program, research has also been conducted regarding how these so-called practices could be made possible, and by what means. The researchers investigated how sustainable consumption could be achieved through initiatives among citizens-consumers and civil society, innovative business models and through policy innovations. In this report, these proposals and ideas from the research have been gathered, with the aim of creating a toolbox with examples of governance and change towards sustainable consumption. We have called these “enablers” because they can enable sustainable consumption in various ways. 62 enablers are presented. They focus on private consumption and mainly on sustainable eating, furnishing, and vacationing, but also on enabling sustainable and reduced consumption in general. There are also a few enablers that relate to public consumption, especially when it comes to school meals. The examples are not to be seen as recommendations, but can be used as inspiration for politicians at both national and local levels, for decision-makers at companies and in authorities, and for organizations in civil society.

As previously mentioned, the goods we consume cause extensive negative consequences for both people and the environment. This applies, for example, to land use, loss of biodiversity, use of non-renewable resources such as metals, use of fresh water and emissions of environmental toxins. Climate impact is also a big part of the problem. Swedes’ consumption gives rise to about 9 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) per person and year on average. A large part, about 60%, of climate emissions are generated outside of Sweden because we import and consume goods produced in global value chains. In order to be in line with the Paris Agreement, which is to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and pursuing efforts to halt at a 1.5-degree temperature increase, the average greenhouse gas emissions per person in the world need to come down to between -0.3 and 3.3 metric tons of CO2e by 2050. Emissions are not evenly distributed between countries, groups or regions. In Sweden, for example, they vary with regard to gender, income, etc. According to a report from Oxfam, the 10% of Swedes with the highest incomes accounted for 24% of the emissions. Unsustainable consumption also creates negative effects on human health and wellbeing, both where the goods are consumed and where they are produced. In rich countries like Sweden, for example, overconsumption of unhealthy foods causes bad health among the population, and in producing countries, production can be associated with the exploitation of workers. In other words, extensive changes are needed to address the problems and to achieve sustainable consumption. The research program Mistra Sustainable Consumption has focused on possible ways forward and identified a number of potentially sustainable practices in the areas of food, vacationing and furnishing. These practices can be about finding new ways to consume, or changing your lifestyle and relationship to consumption. Research has shown that technology development and environmentally smart products are not enough. We also need changes in what and how much we consume. One part of the program has therefore been to identify practices that focus on replacing environmentally and health-damaging products and services with more resource efficient and healthy alternatives, but also practices that involve reducing the consumption volume of environmentally harmful goods and services.

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