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Symposium 2013

Background Paper - Sustainable Consumption and Resource Management in the Light of Life Cycle Thinking

The Challenge

A growing world population and increasing living standards imply large and accelerating resource use for individual consumption. The world’s population already consumes many of the planet’s resour ...

A growing world population and increasing living standards imply large and accelerating resource use for individual consumption. The world’s population already consumes many of the planet’s resources in unsustainable ways. It seems that economic progress in developing countries will also follow this pattern. A remedy may lie in more conscious behavior by consumers: sustainable consumption.

Approaches to address unsustainable ways of societal development constantly proliferate, but total consumption of resources and aggregate environmental impacts continue rising. This could partially be explained by weak attempts to develop comprehensive sustainability strategies that address the entire life cycle of products and especially resource extraction and use phases. This paper seeks to explore to what extent these life cycle stages and associated impacts are taken into account when various actors employ life cycle thinking and how these concerns can be better attended to in policy-making, business strategies and lifestyle choices. To accomplish this, we evaluate the efforts of the main stakeholders in reaching sustainable consumption and sustainable resource management, and impediments to further progress, and study whether and how deficits in these phases coincide and can potentially contribute to more holistic practical realization of life cycle thinking. We demonstrate that new approaches are needed to be able to tackle the international dimension of production and consumption.