How does the environment affect consumer choices

Sustainable consumption

In view of the steadily growing world population and limited resources on our earth, the question arises as to how the needs of nine billion people can be met and participation ensured in the future. The consumption of private households alone is responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in Germany. The production of consumer goods is not even included. That means: The consumption of products has an ever increasing influence not only on the economic and social situation of people, but also on the state of the environment. There is consequently great potential for reducing environmental pollution in the use and manufacture of products. It's about recognizing this potential and using it. A discussion about our lifestyles and our responsibility, including when it comes to consumption, is essential!

What is sustainable consumption?

Sustainable consumption is part of a sustainable way of life and consumer behavior that, among other things, takes environmental and social aspects into account when buying and using products and services. Sustainable consumption also affects the usage behavior and disposal behavior of resources in everyday life.

If one follows the model of sustainable development, consumption is sustainable when it "meets the needs of today's generation without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs and choose their lifestyle". We have to bear in mind that consumption in Germany has an impact on both the environment and people abroad due to global production processes and supply chains.

Sustainable consumption thus extends into the individual lifestyle of people. The sustainable consumer is the ecologically and socially responsible citizen.

Above all, sustainable consumption means: conscious consumption, taking a closer look and keeping an eye on your own "overall balance". The Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency support this with numerous information offers.

Sustainable consumption and sustainable production cause each other!

Sustainability as a quality feature of products should be the self-evident guiding principle for consumers, but also for the economy and public administration in Germany. It's about how and what is consumed.

Sustainable consumption influences all phases of the value chain and must be considered throughout the entire product life cycle. Looking at the value chain from the consumer side means that sustainable consumer decisions ultimately result in the sustainable optimization of the entire value chain.

National program for sustainable consumption

On February 24, 2016, the Federal Government adopted the National Program for Sustainable Consumption drawn up by the Federal Environment Ministry and presented together with the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection and the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. In it, the Federal Government sets out how sustainable consumption is to be systematically strengthened and expanded at the national level in various areas. The program, which also represents an important step in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in particular the global Sustainable Development Goals 12 (SDG 12), is intended to promote sustainable consumption from a niche to the mainstream and to promote consumer literacy Boost Consumers. At the same time, the participation of all population groups in sustainable consumption should be guaranteed.

On May 3, 2021, the State Secretaries for Sustainable Development decided to further develop the program. The resolution contains 45 new quantifiable measures and, for the first time, consumption-related goals that primarily affect the areas of mobility, living and household, nutrition, work and office, clothing, as well as leisure and tourism. The measures adopted are intended to help cut consumption-related greenhouse gas emissions per inhabitant by half by 2030.

The program addresses the six consumption areas with the greatest potential for relief, namely mobility, nutrition, living and household, office and work, clothing, and tourism and leisure. Overarching fields of action are also addressed, including education, consumer information and research. The program also represents a platform that is intended to enable the participation of all relevant social groups. A change in consumption patterns in our society towards more sustainability can only be achieved with the participation of social groups.

The federal ministries also support the implementation of the program through lighthouse projects. For example, as part of its lighthouse initiative "Ways and building blocks of a digital agenda for sustainable consumption", the BMU is working with relevant stakeholder groups to develop concrete solutions for the social realization of sustainable consumption patterns and lifestyles, taking digital change into account. Examples include improving the sustainability of online retailing, using algorithms and search engines for sustainable consumer decisions, supporting digital initiatives and developing digital consumer skills for sustainable consumption. This improves the "digital design skills" of a policy for sustainable consumption. This is also a contribution to the environmental policy digital agenda of the BMU, in which consumption plays a central role

To support the implementation of the program, the Competence Center for Sustainable Consumption was launched at the Federal Environment Agency on March 23, 2017. The competence center is intended to promote sustainable consumption as a joint activity of the entire federal government and create an institutional basis for it. His main areas of responsibility include content-related and organizational support for the implementation of the program, the provision of information services for sustainable consumption and the coordination of specialist services for sustainable consumption with a view to program implementation in coordination with the relevant departments.

In addition, the national network for sustainable consumption was founded on January 27, 2017 to involve social groups more closely in the implementation of the program. The network promotes the intensification of an interdisciplinary and practice-oriented dialogue as well as the cooperation of almost 260 actors from science, politics, business and civil society. Among other things, it serves to disseminate best practice examples and cooperation between actors in individual areas of activity.

Information through eco-labels

Test seals, standardizations and environmental labels that are based on high standards can contribute to efficient and transparent market conditions and thus form a good basis for self-determined and responsible consumer decisions.

The well-known and successful German eco-label "Blue Angel" is being further strengthened by the federal government and should take into account aspects of sustainability even more than before. The plan is to promote the acceptance and dissemination of the "Blue Angel", for example by focusing on various environmental aspects and more public relations.

For detailed information on measures and instruments of the Federal Government as well as on environmental labels, please refer to the special points on this website.

Sustainable consumption on an international level

At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, "sustainable consumption" was introduced into the political discussion as a concept and idea. Ten years later, at the World Summit in Johannesburg, a 10-year framework program was adopted to promote sustainable consumption and production patterns. The goals were concretized in the "Marrakech Process" started in 2003, the center of which is the development of strategies and measures to strengthen sustainable consumption and production patterns. The Marrakech Process forms the basis for national strategies to promote sustainable production and consumption patterns.

Against this background, the Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency launched the national dialogue process on sustainable consumption and production methods in Germany in 2004. At the European level, the action plan "Sustainability in Production and Consumption" followed in 2008.

At the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 (Rio + 20), the 10-year framework for programs for sustainable consumption and production methods was adopted. From this decision, the One Planet Network has developed as a global platform for action for sustainable consumption and production.

In the "2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" adopted by the heads of state and government of the United Nations in September 2015, the global sustainability goals were adopted, in which the implementation of sustainable consumption and production patterns in an independent global goal "Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns" (SDG 12) as well as in other chapters.