The Path Towards Responsible Consumption

The current consumption patterns are not compatible with the planetary boundaries (UNEP, 2019). We would need 2.75 Earths if everyone lived like Swiss residents. And despite the hope that we would “build back better” following the Covid-19 pandemic, the Swiss consumption levels have already grown above the pre-pandemic levels. 

The call for action is urgent! According to the latest IPCC report, we have three years left to cap our greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and avoid a climate catastrophe. Although lifestyle changes alone cannot solve everything, they have a key role to play, technological advances will not suffice. In Europe, shifts in behaviour could contribute to more than 20% of the GHG emission reductions required to reach net zero by 2050 (Costa et al., 2021). 

Responsible consumption, which is in line with SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production), requires bringing all actors onboard, from consumers and producers to policymakers. Responsible consumption refers to consumers’ considerations for social and environmental consequences of their choices. Responsible production considers the impacts arising from a firm’s or brand’s business activities from the initial to final production. In this case, producers are responsible to identify and ideally eliminate negative impacts. Responsible policymakers are those who have a political agenda aligned with finding solutions to the social and environmental challenges their voters face. 

The aim of this report is to identify the issues with the current economic model and the individual barriers that hinder responsible consumption, as well as to call for action for coordinating the shift towards more responsible behaviours across all actors. It represents a follow-up to the Conference on Responsible Consumption organised by E4S and ASSH in Bern on 31st August 2021 and kick-starts the E4S series on this topic.