Life Cycle Assessments Strengthen Sustainable Consumption

Article in the Journal of Cleaner Production examines how qualitative consumer research and quantitative environmental assessments can complement each other

  • News 16.03.2021

Those who switch from the car to public transport may do their shopping separately by car instead of doing it on the way back from work as before. This creates "rebound effects". Examples like these show that not only individual consumption practices, but entire consumption patterns should be examined. In order to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and those for sustainable development, consumption styles must be rethought – see Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 – responsible consumption and production. In order to be able to act with political certainty, the perspective of quantitative environmental assessments such as life cycle assessment is essential and needs to be designed accordingly.

In their recent article, Paul Suski, Dr. Melanie Speck and Prof. Dr. Christa Liedtke from the Department of Sustainable Production and Consumption at the Wuppertal Institute show a way of linking social science research on sustainable consumption with that of life cycle assessment. To this end, they propose a framework that can be used to analyse and evaluate not only individual consumption practices, such as driving or shopping, but entire consumption patterns.
The authors shows that current research on LCA has large gaps in the area of consumption and therefore a change of perspective is necessary: from buying and owning to actually using goods in practices. Since individual consumption practices are closely interwoven with other practices, as the example of shopping shows, and therefore every intervention carries the risk of rebound effects, the authors propose a two-stage analysis procedure: In the "zooming in," a consumption practice is examined and described in more detail. In the case of "zooming out," they examine how this practice is integrated in the interplay with other consumption practices. These practices can then be assessed in terms of the goods consumed and the infrastructures required. With this approach, social practices can be evaluated and the ecological rucksack of their possible combination can be made visible – including possible rebound effects. The team of authors concludes that this approach not only has advantages for life cycle assessment, but also has an impact on the type of policy recommendations for sustainable consumption.

The article "Promoting sustainable consumption with LCA - A social practice based perspective" has been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production and is available behind the following link.

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