Why household consumption matters
The way we consume has both direct and indirect impacts on the environment.
Household consumption forms an important part of the production-consumption chain as it is consumers who make the final choice as to which goods and services to buy. Even though the environmental pressures caused by each household are relatively small compared to those caused by production activities, the 1.5 million households in New Zealand combined are a major contributor to environmental problems such as climate change, air and water pollution, land use and waste generation.
For example, the use of energy in our homes and our dependence on cars are causing air pollution and increased emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that lead to climate change. Also, we are creating more and more waste from household activities. But in addition to those and other direct effects, consumption also indirectly leads to environmental impacts from the production, processing and transportation of the goods we consume.
Despite the advances that have been made, for example in introducing more ecologically efficient production methods and reducing harmful emissions from vehicles, these have been offset by the rapidly rising consumption of goods and services.
Understanding consumption patterns
Mapping our patterns of consumption is not straightforward.
In the last ten years we have seen major developments that have changed how and what we consume. One is economic growth, globalisation and the opening of markets. As we become wealthier, we consume more. The average New Zealander now has a higher income and a higher standard of living than in the past, and has access to products from all over the world.
Another development is that households are getting smaller on average, and partly because of that we use more energy and water and generate more waste per person.
We have also changed culturally and socially. ‘Individualisation’, the belief...