What is responsible consumption?

Background & Scoping

What is responsible consumption?

What's the problem and what were our goals? This work aimed to understand if and how behavioural public policy approaches can contribute to reducing the impact of lifestyles in affluent populations while aligning with the objectives of the SDGs: promoting prosperity whilst protecting the planet.

What's the problem?

Lifestyles of affluent countries, and affluent populations within countries, are recognised as a significant driver of the unsustainable impacts of economic development. Thus, resulting in increasing global inequality and the poor well-being of vulnerable communities while we approach or exceed multiple boundaries of planetary health in areas such as climate, pollution and material intensity.

Noteworthily, the European Union (EU) Parliament called for the first-ever legally binding targets to reduce material and consumption footprints by 2030, which included calls for the absolute reduction of resource consumption. For Australia's continued economic stability and flourishing, a shift towards a more 'reformist' position may be necessary if we are to continue ties with the EU as our second-largest trade partner.

The Responsible Consumption Mission was guided by the ambitious goal of reducing per capital material resource consumption in Australia by 15% by 2030 while maintaining community wellbeing and economic resilience. Our work aims to understand if and how behavioural public policy approaches could contribute to reducing the impact of lifestyles in affluent populations while also aligning with the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals to promote prosperity while also protecting the planet.

What do we mean by responsible consumption?

Responsible consumption focuses on the behaviours and attitudes of humans that sustain social, environmental, and economic wellbeing.

A large focus of this project will aim to change the nature and quality of consumption behaviour. This could mean a drastic transformation in what our society considers as 'the good life' and how we as individuals, citizens, consumers, employ(ers/ees), producers, entrepreneurs, public servants, politicians, community and societal members can achieve it. The potential contribution for behavioural public policy to link individual and system change in this area is significant.

Examples of responsible consumption programs:

  • Conscious consumerism (i.e. purchasing decisions that have positive social, economic, and environmental impacts)
  • Choosing ethical and eco-friendly brands and products
  • Supporting relevant charities, policies and initiatives
  • Avoiding higher impact items and products
  • Favouring services and more durable, reusable and repairable items

Mission goals

In April 2021, BWA and its partners came to an agreement on the Responsible Consumption Grand Challenge (SDG 12), and Mission: to reduce Australia's material footprint through responsible consumption.

The Mission's goal is to reduce per capital material resource consumption in Australia by 15% by 2030 while maintaining community wellbeing and economic resilience.

The goal is in line with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.2: [by 2030] achieve sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources.

It aims to identify opportunities for de-coupling consumption demand and economic growth, close the gap in research and policy on sustainable consumption and de-materialising the economy, and address the wider goals relevant to all consortium partners.

Interests and priorities

BWA and its partners agreed upon a list of priority areas to target for the Mission. While there are many material streams that contribute to responsible consumption, the following priority areas were recognised as being under-addressed in research and practice.

Three priority areas were identified and selected:

  • fashion and textiles;
  • electronics and electrical devices; and
  • furniture and large household items.

Responsible Consumption Agenda

Together, we concluded the Mission's implementation model would be an inclusive 'co-design' process with Consortium partner staff and broader stakeholders, supported by targeted research. As part of this, success will require engaging a wide range of cross-sector stakeholders across the public, private and civil sectors to validate and refine the Mission's program and goals;

We then worked to define the objectives for the behaviour phase, which were:

  1. Connect individual action to wider system-level changes
  2. Consider ambitious and challenging behaviours
  3. Also target straightforward behaviours with spillover potential.

To understand the full scope of the Mission, read the Scoping Summary Report or the more detailed Initial Scoping Paper.

Scoping Summary Report
Initial Scoping Paper

The next phase of the Mission was Behaviour Prioritisation.

Project team

Dr Kim Borg, Program Lead
Jennifer Macklin (Downes), Content Expert and Co-Lead
Mark Boulet, Intervention Co-design Lead

Dr Fraser Tull, Trials Lead
Dr Jim Curts, Program Support
Dr Stefan Kaufman, Initiation and Scoping