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Getting to Grips with Consumption

25 September 2003


The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) today (25 September) welcomed the Government's new Sustainable Consumption and Production Framework as 'the first step in a critically important process'. The UK is now the first European country to respond to the challenge from the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg to inject real momentum into the sustainable consumption and production process.

Whilst welcoming the Framework, the Sustainable Development Commission called for a more robust and immediate focus on consumption.

Commenting on the Framework, SDC Chairman Jonathon Porritt said: 'It is accompanied by a draft set of indicators to measure how effectively economic success is being decoupled from impacts on the environment. But it makes no effort to explore an equally important "decoupling" issue: how to decouple unsustainable levels of consumption from real improvements in people's quality of life. Contemporary research clearly demonstrates that increased personal consumption does not necessarily improve people's sense of wellbeing, and may often cause severe domestic problems by accelerating unsustainable levels of debt'.

Arguing for urgent concrete action, SDC proposed the idea of a Sustainable Consumption Roundtable to drive the debate forward and inform and guide policy-making. In its recommendations [see notes], SDC stated: 'DEFRA and DTI should actively support the creation of a Sustainable Consumption Roundtable hosted jointly by the Sustainable Development Commission and the National Consumer Council'.

SDC Chairman Jonathon Porritt said: 'Consumption is a complex area, but the complexity must not overwhelm us. We need to bring people together to consider: whether we need to consume less, or just more responsibly; how we can enable consumers to make real, informed choices; how we can tackle the misery of over- onsumption and debt; and the potential impacts on employment and the economy.

'A Roundtable - hosted by SDC in partnership with the National Consumer Council - would exist to assist Government in creating an informed and practical sustainable consumption strategy. It is therefore a key part of the recommendations we have made today (25 September) to the Secretaries of State at both DEFRA and DTI.'

The National Consumer Council's Chief Executive, Ed Mayo said: 'Almost one third of UK energy consumption comes from domestic use. If this is going to be reduced all our lives will be affected.

'Our research shows us that while 90 per cent of consumers say they are 'happy to do their bit', the reality is that habit, confusion, convenience and cost over-rides concerns about the environment.

Consumers see green as more expensive and extra hassle. This is a wake-up call for action, because consumer habits need to change. We all need far more opportunities and choice to consume sustainably.'



1. The Government must take a much more robust stance on addressing consumption issues head-on. This area of policy is not beyond the scope of appropriate Government intervention, and they should indeed be taking the lead on it by producing a specific sustainable consumption strategy focusing on the four key areas of government intervention: consumer information; regulations and standards; planning controls; economic instruments.

2. DEFRA and DTI should - through a cross- departmental remit - activelysupport the creation of Sustainable Consumption Roundtable hosted jointly by the Sustainable Development Commission and the National Consumer Council, to guide and inform policy-making.

3. DEFRA's emerging Sustainable Development Communications Strategy has put sustainable consumption high up its list of priorities. It should establish a high level Communications Task Force (under the aegis of the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable) to advise DEFRA and other key government departments on how best to communicate with individuals (as citizens, consumers and employees) on issue of lifestyle and consumption.

4. The Government can no longer be complacent about personal debt and should move away from the 'consume more' mentality that currently governs all its choices, and rethink the dominance of economic growth as the principal driving force in modern politics.

5. DEFRA and ODPM should ensure that the new Policy Planning Statement 1 (to be agreed in 2004) and the revised Building Regulations should
explicitly address the challenge of making it easier for people to reduce the physical impacts of their housing, travelling, retail and leisure decisions.

6. "Mutual support groups", working at community or individual household level can have a marked impact on influencing lifestyles. DEFRA should therefore actively support initiatives in schools, community groups, churches and other religious organisations seeking to minimise the impact of individual consumption.

- The Sustainable Development Commission recently published 'Policies for Sustainable Consumption' and 'Redefining Prosperity' which are available on www.sd-commission.gov.uk. The Public Enquiry number is: 020 7238 4995.

- The Sustainable Development Commission is the Government's independent sustainable development advisor, reporting to Tony Blair and the
Devolved Administration leaders. SDC's objectives include advocating a compelling vision of a sustainable economy and society, and reviewing how
far sustainable development is being achieved in the UK across all sectors.

- Sustainable development provides a framework for redirecting our economies to enable everyone to meet their basic needs and improve their
quality of life while ensuring that the natural resources on which they depend are maintained and enhanced, both for their benefit and for that of
future generations.
Public Enquiries: 020 7238 4995

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