Enablers of Sustainable lifestyles

Achieving sustainable lifestyles requires strong demand-side policies and social innovations

At UNEA-4, side events are solicited to highlight critical issues in accordance with the theme “Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production”. The Major Group Science and Technology, in collaboration with the Future Earth Knowledge Action network on Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production and other partners; and supported by Future Earth, will explore this theme from a systemic perspective taking into account links between consumption and production. The aim is to explore how social innovations and policies could contribute to sustainable lifestyles and a culture of sufficiency.

SCP has been interpreted and operationalized in different ways: consuming differently, using less resource-intensive products, moving from material products to immaterial services, energy conservation and deployment of renewable energy, sharing the use of products (movement from ownership to access), and adoption of higher quality products with longer lifespans. On a more abstract level, it has also inspired a critique of the “culture of consumerism” and the negation of unsustainable lifestyles.

A transformation toward systems of sustainable consumption and production has to go far beyond the efficiency postulates laid out in the SDG 12 dealing with SCP.  It will require the design of new infrastructures, governance arrangements, economic models, research agendas, financial institutions, lifestyles, social and economic relations, business models and social norms. The need for such transformative changes is unambiguously reflected in both the spirit and letter of the 2030 Agenda, but has not to date received sufficient endorsement by national governments and others.

Technological solutions to the challenge of dangerous climate change are urgent and necessary;

but to be effective they need to be accompanied by reductions in the total level of consumption

and production of goods and services, particularly in industrialized economies. This is for three reasons. First, private consumption and its associated production are among the key drivers of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, especially among highly emitting industrialized economies. There is no evidence that decoupling of consumption driven economies from GHG emissions is possible at the scale and speed needed. Second, investments in more sustainable infrastructure, including renewable energy, needed in coming decades will require extensive amounts of energy, largely from fossil sources, which will use up a significant share of the two-degree carbon budget. Third, improving the standard of living of the world’s poor will consume a major portion of the available carbon allowance.

Hot spots of lifestyle carbon footprints are meat and dairy consumption in the nutrition domain, private car driving and airplane flights in the mobility domain, and fossil-fuel based energy consumption in the housing domain. In a recent study, over 50 relevant options for reducing lifestyle carbon footprints have been highlighted. National and local governments can promote city planning for improved public transport, bicycling, and service accessibility, and transform energy supply system to renewables. Shifting the taxation, subsidies, and other policy instruments towards incentivizing low-carbon lifestyles is also crucial.

We need new economic models. Building on the work of many others, Kate Raworth has presented the doughnut model of economics. It consists of two rings. The inner ring of the represents a sufficiency of the resources we need to lead a good life: food, clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, democracy. Anyone living within that ring, in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, is in a state of deprivation. The outer ring of the doughnut consists of the Earth’s environmental limits, beyond which we inflict dangerous levels of climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species and other assaults on the living world. The area between the two rings – the doughnut itself – is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. The purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there.

In another recent paper, it is argued that integration of sustainable consumption goals into wider policy (policy integration) is critical. Policies for sustainable consumption must embrace multi-scalar and reflexive governance approaches that are open to radical experimentation and engage with emerging societal trends. Alternative policy approaches seek to look beyond consumer choices to address the ways our patterns of consumption are shaped. These approaches recognize that consumption is always politically contested and therefore requires the alignment of multiple actors within production-consumption systems in order to build coalitions, present ways for coordinating action, and redirect existing trajectories or dynamics of societal change towards a more sustainable path.

One of the recent developments is the attention for social innovations. Social innovations are new strategies, concepts, ideas and organizations that aim to meet social needs resulting from working conditions, education, community development, and health. These ideas are created with the goal of extending and strengthening civil society. We will explore from several perspectives how important social innovation is for a real and durable shift towards SCP.

The side event ‘Enablers of Sustainable lifestyles: Achieving sustainable lifestyles requires strong demand-side policies and social innovations’ will contribute to the emerging debate.


  • Future Earth Knowledge Action network on Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production
  • Major Group Science and Technology at UN Environment
  • German Committee Future Earth (DKN)


  • Mohamed Abdelraouf, Gulf Research Center; Chair of MGFC at UN Environment
  • Magnus Bengtsson – KAN SSCP – Future Earth


  • Hans Bruyninckx, (or Lars Mortenson or colleague) – European Environmental Agency
  • Leida Rijnhout – co-author Publication “Sufficiency – beyond the gospel of resource-efficiency”
  • Manu Mathai, Azim Premji University, India
  • Melanie Jaeger-Erben, TU Berlin, or colleague from Future Earth German Working Group
  • Representative from private sector


  1. Sufficiency: Moving beyond the gospel of eco-efficiency, Friends of the Earth Europe
  2. Brown, Halina S., and Philip J. Vergragt. 2016. From Consumerism to Wellbeing: toward a cultural transition? Journal of Cleaner Production 132, 308-317. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2015.04.107
  3. Bengtsson, M., Alfredsson, E., Cohen, M. et al. Sustain Sci (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0582-1
  4. Eva Alfredsson, Magnus Bengtsson, Halina Szejnwald Brown, Cindy Isenhour, Sylvia Lorek, Dimitris Stevis & Philip Vergragt (2018) Why achieving the Paris Agreement requires reduced overall consumption and production, Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 14:1, 1-5,  https://doi.org/10.1080/15487733.2018.1458815
  5. Martin R.Sers, Peter A.Victor The Energy-emissions Trap, Ecological Economics 151 ( 2018) 10-21


  6. Michael LETTENMEIER, Ryu KOIDE, Viivi TOIVIO, Aryanie AMELLINA, Lewis AKENJI, Key findings from the study on Lifestyle Carbon Footprints: Long-term targets and case studies of the carbon footprints of household consumption, IGES 2018  https://pub.iges.or.jp/pub/key-findings-study-lifestyle-carbon-footprints
  7. Kate Raworth, 2017. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist
  8. Dale Southerton. and Daniel Welch, 2018.Transitions for Sustainable Consumption After the Paris Agreement, The Stanley Foundation https://www.stanleyfoundation.org/publications/pab/SustainableConsPAB1118.pdf