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Policy experts point the way towards sustainable consumption on a shared planet

08 May 2015

During a recent workshop held in Eugene (Oregon, USA), a number of policy experts met to research and explore actions that cities can take to promote sustainable consumption and well-being at the municipal level.

In a statement formulated at the event, the experts acknowledged that an economic system dependent on continuous growth in material energy consumption is “fundamentally at odds with the very real limits of the natural systems available to support it”.

Citing the evidence that we are currently consuming the equivalent of 1.5 times the resources and energy our planet can sustainably produce, the statement goes on to outline how the transition towards a renewable economy requires absolute reductions in demand. Their framing of the global sustainability challenge is centred on the need to share resources more equitably and sustainability, as summarised in the extract below.

“Rising expectations worldwide create an additional challenge: current North American consumption levels cannot be replicated on a global scale or even maintained in North America. Any meaningful discussion of changing consumption has to address fair sharing of the world’s ecological and economic output and advance solutions that reverse growing inequality. There is widespread recognition that the relatively wealthy are consuming far more than their share, while others are left without even the basics.

“There are indications that new ways of understanding prosperity are emerging. Public opinion in the United States supports the notion that we would be better off if there were less overall consumption and greater equality. There is increasing evidence that more material wealth over a certain threshold adds little to happiness, and may actually undermine well-being.

“Some young people are rejecting high-impact suburban lifestyles to adopt lower impact ways of living. New forms of ownership and exchange, often aided by technology, are appearing in cities across the world with growing interest in sharing, borrowing, renting, and repairing. New business models and enterprises are developing to reflect longer-term social interests. The continuous economic growth paradigm itself is increasingly being challenged; other social and ecological indicators that are superior to per capita gross domestic product (GDP) as measures of general well-being are being proposed.”

The rest of the statement outlines guiding principles for local actions, including the need to satisfy basic needs for all within “the real biophysical limits to growth”; and also the need to commit to equity and social inclusion, because “highly unequal societies are not sustainable”. Overall, the statement presents a compelling overview of how local government action can promote sustainable consumption based on an understanding that we live on one planet that everyone must share.

Read the full statement: Eugene Memorandum - The role of cities in advancing sustainable consumption (published at Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy).

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