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Dominant unsustainable consumption patterns in developed countries have led to increasing climate and biodiversity issues. Through consumption-based accounting, at least 70% of the environmental footprint (carbon emissions, blue water extraction, resource use, land use) can be attributed to food, housing, the use of appliances and transport. Total consumption of dominant consumer goods such as clothing and electronics is only on the rise, also leading to increasing levels of waste. Given these adverse trends, and the key role of business in society, this chapter focuses on a potential positive role by business and investigates the following question: Can business have a positive role in supporting or even driving sustainable consumption, and if so, how? First, a Business for Sufficiency framework is introduced-based on the top strategies in the waste hierarchy and the four 'lessens'-to map possible business-driven strategies. Second, this framework is applied to the sectors of food, housing, appliances, and transport. Based on this analysis, it was found that business indeed has a plethora of options, including green alternatives, service-driven business models, platforms, and strategies to moderate consumption. However, green alternatives were most prevalent. While some businesses also operate in the refuse (do not overconsume) option, it is likely that new policies are needed to drive sustainable consumption. The EU Circular Economy Package is an important lever for policy change, but a specific focus on sufficiency may help guide even more stringent policies to curb unsustainable consumption patterns that are detrimental to the environment and ultimately society itself.
Impacts of Consumption and the Role of Business
(In: The Palgrave Global Handbook of Sustainability, edited by Robert Brinkmann,
Bocken, N. 1, Niessen, L. 1, Tukker, A. 2, 3
1 Maastricht Sustainability Institute (MSI), School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University, Tapijn 11
Building D, P.O. Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands
2 Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), Leiden University, Leiden, P.O.Box 9518,
2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
3 Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Anna van Buerenplein 1, 2496 RZ Den Haag,
The Netherlands
Dominant unsustainable consumption patterns in developed countries have led to
increasing climate and biodiversity issues. Through consumption-based accounting, at least
70% of the environmental footprint (carbon emissions, blue water extraction, resource use,
land use) can be attributed to food, housing, the use of appliances and transport. Total
consumption of dominant consumer goods such as clothing and electronics is only on the
rise, also leading to increasing levels of waste. Given these adverse trends, and the key role
of business in society, this chapter focuses on a potential positive role by business and
investigates the following question: Can business have a positive role in supporting or even
driving sustainable consumption, and if so, how? First, a Business for Sufficiency framework
is introduced — based on the top strategies in the waste hierarchy and the four ‘lessens’
to map possible business-driven strategies. Second, this framework is applied to the sectors
of food, housing, appliances, and transport. Based on this analysis, it was found that
business indeed has a plethora of options, including green alternatives, service-driven
business models, platforms, and strategies to moderate consumption. However, green
alternatives were most prevalent. While some businesses also operate in the refuse (do not
overconsume) option, it is likely that new policies are needed to drive sustainable
consumption. The EU Circular Economy Package is an important lever for policy change, but
a specific focus on sufficiency may help guide even more stringent policies to curb
unsustainable consumption patterns that are detrimental to the environment and
ultimately society itself.
Consumption; Sustainable consumption; sufficiency; business for sufficiency; food; mobility;
1. Introduction
More consumption? Is that even possible within our planetary boundaries? By 2050, the
world is expected to consume “as if we were three” planets (European Union, 2020, p. 4).
While in developing and emerging countries, there is a clear need to ensure that everyone
has access to fundamental needs such as food, sanitation, access to care and education,
overall, we are consuming more planetary resources than we can sustain in the long-run
(O’Neill et al., 2018). Four of the key planetary boundaries have already been
surpassed: climate change, biosphere integrity, land-system change and biogeochemical
flows (O’Neill et al., 2018). Our consumption of natural resources is on a dangerous and
unsustainable track: the global use of natural resources has more than tripled since 1970
and continues to grow, while natural resource extraction and processing is responsible for
more than 90% of biodiversity losses and water stress (IRP, 2019).
Businesses can and should be a core driver for change as it is estimated that business alone
determines 80% of the world economy (Smit, 2019), driving the demand for goods and
services. Current institutionalized unsustainable business models drive consumers to
overconsume and buy products they do not need or even want (Jackson, 2009) in consumer
goods sectors like clothing, food, and electronics (Bocken & Short, 2021). For example,
clothing production has doubled in less than 20 years, and people on average bought 60%
more garments in 2014 compared to 2000, with about 85% of textiles going to waste each
year (McFall-Johnsen, 2019). For food, about a third of still perfectly edible food is going to
waste, releasing methane, and contributing to climate change (FAO, 2011), which is due to
all kinds of problems in the supply chain such as storage and processing losses,
inappropriate packaging, damage during transport, but also over-selling and buying (e.g., 2-
for-1 buys; bulk buys, large portion sizes) (Papargyropoulou et al., 2014). As for electronics,
cell phones have become the largest electronic market in the last two decades with around
1.4 billion new phones sold every year (Circular X, 2020). They are often replaced before
their technical lifetime, with the average lifespan of a smartphone declining to only a year
(Haucke, 2018). Worse, behind many of these consumer products, there are often (human
and natural) resource exploitative business models and complex value chains with extensive
logistics channels, exacerbated by a focus on quantity rather than quality (Bocken & Short,
2021). Overall, per capita consumption of natural resources, such as wood and water, has
been increasing much faster than the population, with environmental consequences, such
as climate change and biodiversity losses (Dauvergne, 2008, in Pereira Heath & Chatzidakis,
Given these adverse trends, this chapter focuses on understanding the environmental
impacts of consumption patterns and discusses a potential positive role for business. Can
business have a positive role in supporting or even driving sustainable consumption, and if
so, how? We first explain and detail the impacts of consumption based on earlier studies.
This is followed by potential ‘business responses for sufficiency’ based on a framework
embedded in different literature streams. Finally, we describe future pathways for research
and practice.
2. Impacts of consumption
The environmental impacts of our global economic system can be measured via a number of
perspectives (Gallego and Lenzen, 2005; Lenzen and Murray, 2010; Tukker et al, 2020). The
most typical one is production-based accounting: emissions and resource extraction by a
specific sector or within a country. Consumption-based accounting is another widely used
approach: this approach measures all the emissions and primary resource requirements
needed to satisfy a specific consumption basket (e.g., of individuals or countries; Davis and
Caldeira, 2010). Other, less used accounting approaches are income-based accounting
(impacts created by the downstream use of products a sector or country produces; Marques
et al, 2012; Liang et al, 2017) and value-added based accounting (emissions and resource
uses along value chains are allocated to each step in the chain based on value added; Pinero
et al, 2018). These perspectives reflect how responsibilities can be allocated for the
environmental impacts created by our global production system, i.e., in the form of polluter
pays (production-based accounting), user pays (consumption-based accounting), producer
responsibility (income-based accounting) or beneficiary pays (value-added based
accounting). While consumption-based accounting is widely seen as the most appropriate
way to allocate environmental impacts to activities of final consumers, some nuances have
been suggested, too (e.g., Kander et al., 2015). For instance, if a country produces products
for exports with a highly inefficient and carbon-intensive production system, this seems to
be more something to be solved by that country rather than by the consumers.
Altogether, consumption-based accounting gives good insight into how final consumption
expenditures drive environmental impacts. It can be used to explore to what extent
environmental impact might be lowered given changes to what is purchased and consumed
(Kanyama et al., 2021). Global Multi-regional Input Output Tables (GMRIO) have become
the method of choice for calculating such consumption-based accounts (although also very
suitable to calculate responsibilities via the other perspectives; Tukker et al., 2016; Tukker et
al, 2020).
Around 2006, some of the first major consumption-based accounting studies had been
conducted, summarized, and completed with new work in the EIPRO (Environmental
Impacts of Products) study commissioned by the EU (Tukker & Jansen, 2006). Mainly using
GMRIO, such studies concluded that food, housing, the use of appliances and transport drive
some 70% of the impacts of final consumption, regardless of whether this concerns carbon
emissions, blue water extraction, resource use or land use (Tukker et al., 2010). This finding
has consistently been confirmed by later studies including a 2010 review of the
International Resources Panel (e.g., Hertwich et al., 2010; Ivanova et al, 2016 and 2017,
Wood et al., 2018). Within the home, the impacts are mainly driven by how consumers heat
and cool their homes. The use of energy using appliances such as fridges, lighting, TV sets
and computers is crucial, too. Around 50% of the impacts of food consumption are driven by
meat and dairy, followed by other food products (Tukker & Jansen, 2006; Tukker et al,
2010). For mobility, car transport is dominant, followed by air transport and public
transport. Carbon emissions are driven by all these final consumption areas, where housing
dominates resource use and food consumption particularly drives water and land use.
Determinants of the height of impacts include the following (Tukker et al, 2010). First,
higher income leads to higher expenditure and hence higher impacts, but since usually, the
surplus is spent on quality rather than quantity, the impacts per monetary value drop
(Scherer et al, 2019). Second, household size is relevant, since larger households tend to
have lower impacts per person benefitting from some ‘economies of scale’ (e.g., shared use
of heated space, TV etc.). Moreover, urbanites tend to have lower impacts (because of
smaller houses, less exposed surface, and more use of public transport) compared to rural
dwellers, although urbanites may make more use of flights. Third, car ownership and food
habits (e.g., being a vegetarian or not) are relevant, too. Fourth, individual choices on how
to spend one’s spare time matter. Low carbon local activities, such as socializing with friends
and sports, may contribute to greater levels of wellbeing as well as a lower environmental
footprint (Druckman & Gatersleben, 2019). It should be noted that next to traditional
production-based reduction options (e.g., greening the electricity and transport systems),
such factors help to identify the potential for consumption-based interventions that help to
allocate income expenditure to more sustainable options.
3. The role of business in driving sustainable consumption
This chapter specifically focuses on the role business may have in driving sustainable
consumption as business motivates the demand for typical consumer goods and services.
While business is often depicted as the culprit driving unsustainable consumption patterns,
recently, authors have investigated the potential of business driving sustainable
consumption or ‘sufficiency’ (Bocken & Short, 2016; Cohen, 2021; Freudenreich &
Schaltegger, 2020; Frick et al., 2021; Tunn et al., 2019). Businesses driving sufficiency can
mean that they encourage their consumers to make do with less (Bocken & Short, 2016) or
to consume within the planetary boundaries to ensure that there will be “enough, for
everyone, forever” (Alexander, 2012).
While there is a plethora of articles and books on sustainable consumption, the literature
stream of business driving sustainable consumption is much narrower. Broadly, Niessen &
Bocken (2021a, b) found that ‘sufficiency’ as a potential viable approach for business and
consumers comes from two dominant literature streams.
First, English-speaking conceptualizations of sufficiency strategies have analysed business
sufficiency actions through the highest tiers of the waste hierarchy (Bocken & Short, 2016)
or strategies of businesses to influence the customer (Bocken, 2017). The frequent
application of the waste hierarchy (Lansink, 1979) by practitioners and researchers makes it
a useful basis for a framework that also appeals to practitioners. Rethink, Reduce and
Refuse are in the top of the waste hierarchy (Lansink, 1979) and are associated with a
sufficiency strategy focused on doing more with less (Bocken & Short, 2016).
Second, German-speaking literature applies sufficiency to business through the four
‘lessens’, attributed to Sachs (1993). These four lessens are the four dimensions of a
sufficiency economy: less clutter, less speed, less distance, and less market (Sachs, 1993 in
Niessen & Bocken, 2021b). Less clutter refers to finding simpler alternatives with only the
necessary base components and in general doing with less. Less speed is about slowing
production and consumption through long-lived and reliable products and services (similar
to ‘slowing the loop’; Bocken et al., 2016; Stahel, 1994). Less distance is about keeping
economic activities more local or regional with less complex value chains, the latter often
being associated with unsustainable business model practices (Reinecke et al., 2019). Less
market is about finding ways that are less commercially focused but more focused on
positive impact. While this may seem like a ‘strange’ strategy in a business context, several
examples have emerged in this space such as the benefit corporation, a new form of
business that balances environmental and social purpose and profit (, and
the sharing economy, a socio-economic system that facilitates temporary access to under-
utilized goods often for no or a small fee (Curtis & Mont, 2020; Henry et al., 2020).
Bringing these disparate literature strands together, a framework guiding business for
sufficiency was developed (Figure 1). Building on the concepts of Rethinking (consuming
differently), Reducing (consuming less), and Refusing (not overconsuming), as well as Less
clutter (simplified and less), Less speed (slower and more reliable), Less distance (regional
and disentangled), and Less market (beyond commerce), the framework includes different
potential strategies based on earlier research in the field and business practice.
Figure 1. Business for Sufficiency Framework. Source: Niessen & Bocken (2021b).
4. Pathways for the future: gaps and future steps
As section 2 highlighted, food, housing, the use of electrical appliances and transport
dominate the consumption-based accounting environmental footprint. Bringing together
the key sectors that drive environmental impact and the Business for Sufficiency
Framework, this section maps key strategies that may be adopted by businesses building on
best strategies seen in practice. Next, the potential business for sufficiency strategies for
food, housing, appliances, and transport, are described.
4.1 Food strategies
Impacts of food consumption are dominated by animal-based products (meat, dairy, eggs)
(Tukker & Jansen, 2006). In addition, much of the (perfectly edible) food is wasted in the
value chain (Papargyropoulou et al., 2014). Furthermore, one can question whether the
ever more complex value chains where food is shipped over long distances are sustainable
(Bocken & Short, 2021). Switching to a plant-based diet could thus be one of the most
impactful ways to reduce one’s footprint (Wynes & Nicholas, 2017). While beneficial for
reducing the environmental impact, a shift to a more plant-based diet and reduced
consumption of meats and dairy is also recommended for health reasons (Willett et al.,
2019). Other ways to reduce the impact of food consumption include removing wasteful
practices from the food value chain and, when possible, producing more locally
(Papargyropoulou et al., 2014; Sandberg, 2021). Furthermore, the food industry has been
criticized for its complex value chains, with poor labor standards (e.g., use of pesticides
harmful for workers) and low wages compared to higher supermarket prices in Western
countries (Bocken & Short; 2021; Reinecke et al., 2019). Businesses driving sufficiency can
help curb unsustainable consumption practices while raising awareness of the impacts of
food on the environment and society. One such example is provided by Swedish food
producer Oatly who promote plant-based diets through offering oat-based dairy substitutes
but are also outspoken in their marketing and try to raise awareness (Bocken et al., 2020).
Sufficiency strategies can also help support social sustainability and the work towards the
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by improving health and supporting the fight against
hunger, for instance by ensuring less food is wasted.
Table 1 includes possible business for sufficiency options for the food sector and examples
of companies who pursued this strategy.
Table 1. Business for Sufficiency strategies for food
(Consume differently)
(Consume less)
(Don’t overconsume)
Less clutter
simplified &
Green alternative:
Plant-based foods
Only simple / limited
number of
Reusable packaging
(Loop) or zero waste
Advocate Meatless
(www.mondaycampai or only eating
meat once a week
Moderating sales:
Sell only what is needed
(e.g., no ‘2-for-1’ deals)
(Bio Company)
From all you can eat to
pay for food weight (IKEA
trialed paying for the
weight of food in stores
to reduce waste)
Made to demand/ reduce
portion size
(differentiated portion
Less speed
slower & more
Green alternative:
Higher quality,
locally sourced,
seasonal (Slow Food
Rescued food
Promote seasonal
produce (Abel & Cole
vegetable box)
Question consumption:
e.g., of internationally
shipped food; fast food
Moderating sales:
Remove non-seasonal (i.e.,
long-distance) products
from store
Less distance-
regional and
Green alternative:
Locally produced
Fair, direct supply
chains (Tony’s
Reinecke et al.,
Short distance
promotion /
Promote regional
produce (Bio
Moderating sales:
Remove long-distance
products from store
Less market
Exchange platforms:
Farmer cooperatives
Exchange platforms:
Food sharing/
repurposing (ResQ
Club; OLIO)
Support for self-
Training for growing own
food, food preservation,
keeping bees, etc.
As Table 1 shows, food sector businesses can implement sufficiency strategies from any of
the dimensions, ranging from promoting the consumption of only what is needed, e.g.,
through differentiated portion sizes or foregoing 2-for-1 discounts, over selling locally
produced and seasonal foods, to supporting consumers in ‘prosumption’ (production and
consumption) and food sharing. With both plant-based diets and food waste prevention
identified as large contributors to sustainable development, businesses can help guide
consumers into the direction of healthier diets and less food waste while also ensuring that
their own operations move towards fair value chains and sustainable production.
4.2 Housing strategies
The impact of housing is about how homes are built, but also about their ongoing impacts,
which is dominated by how consumers heat and cool their homes (Tukker & Jansen, 2006).
This is followed by the use of electric appliances in the home, discussed in the next section.
The first negative trend from an environmental perspective is the increasing housing size
which has tripled between 1950 and 2015 in the US, due to lifestyle expectations, spaces for
special functions (e.g., playrooms, home offices) and the increasing number of bathrooms
(Cohen, 2021). While this has an increased level of embedded carbon through the use of
materials which take energy to produce, it also increases the amount of space to heat and
cool. At the same time, household sizes have been decreasing, indicating that the space
used per person is only increasing (Cohen, 2021). Second, energy use in the home is
increasing with living standards and exacerbated by rising temperatures caused by climate
change. For instance, it is estimated that air-conditioning consumption of the 20 most
prosperous countries has increased by around 400 TWh between 2015-2018, as
temperatures have been on average 6% higher than normal (Enerdata, 2019). This
additional energy consumption is equivalent to the yearly energy consumption of buildings
across the African continent (Enerdata, 2019).
Options for housing should focus on the construction of the home itself and how energy is
consumed. With regards to construction, one option is to promote radical changes to home
sizes (Cohen, 2021; Sandberg, 2018). Such reduced-sized dwellings include tiny houses,
which have gained popularity in recent years, but also small city apartments such as the
StudioKoti in Finland (Sandberg, 2018). Shared living space also promotes sufficiency in
housing and is on offer not only for living space but also for office space, such as in co-
working spaces (Cohen, 2021). Another important strategy can be found in the use and
redesign of existing infrastructure which would lower the need for new material and
resource inputs (Sandberg, 2018). To lower the impact of domestic energy consumption,
Sandberg (2021) suggests to shift housing types away from detached to semi-detached or
terraced houses and apartments. Next to such radical changes, other options include buying
green energy to reduce the footprint in the home, as well as replacing energy-using
products such as light bulbs with less energy-consuming alternatives such as LEDs (Wynes &
Nicholas, 2017).
Table 2 provides a summary of business for sufficiency strategies for housing.
Table 2. Business for Sufficiency strategies for housing
(Consume differently)
(Consume less)
(Don’t overconsume)
Green alternative:
Materials (green
roofs, RE-powered
homes, passive energy
Appliances (efficient
Shift in housing type
to semi-detached,
terraced and
(Sandberg, 2021)
No ownership:
Offer co-living /-working
options (WeWork)
Promote smaller living
Demand reduction
Consultancy for lower
energy / water use
Retrofit houses to avoid
demand for
(Creutzig et al., 2018)
Green alternative:
Tiny house
Smaller houses and
(StudioKoti) (Cohen,
Encourage use of
existing buildings
(Lacaton & Vassal
Life extension service:
Renovate existing
buildings (Lacaton &
Green alternative:
Redesign existing
Green alternative:
Modular, upgradable
Highly durable
buildings into smaller
Green alternative:
Locally sourced or
produced components
Short distance
Promote locally produced
Local communities in
cities focused on
keeping consumption
local (Prendeville et
al., 2018)
Exchange platforms:
Material Exchange
platforms (
Support for repair &
Training for repair and
Support for self-
Training for building
(e.g., hempcrete
As visible in Table 2, the housing and construction sector can support sufficiency through a
variety of strategies. In the Rethink dimension, using existing housing stock, promoting
shared living and working arrangements and sustainable material choices are some of the
potential strategies. More radical suggestions include advocating for smaller living space, for
instance through promoting small apartments or Tiny Houses. While smaller living space has
a positive environmental impact through reducing the resources needed for heating and
construction, it is a socially contentious issue as more living space is often considered to be
directly linked to higher well-being. Therefore, while the voluntary simplicity movement is
growing and Tiny Houses are gaining popularity, any large-scale adoption of smaller living
spaces would have to be combined with policies that allow for adequate housing for all,
including the provision of public spaces, and should be developed together with affected
4.3 Electrical appliances strategies
Related to the impact of housing is the use of energy using appliances such as fridges,
lighting, TV sets and computers, summarized here as ‘electrical appliances’. Electrical
appliances such as laptop computers and mobile phones are replaced at an ever-increasing
rate with the average lifespan of a smartphone declining to only a year (Haucke, 2018). At
the same time, 80% of electronic waste sent for recycling is in fact shipped and dumped,
often in developing countries (Ryder & Houlin, 2019). While the increasing volume of this
sector is a problem, the projected electricity demand from information and communications
technology is also forecasted to be 21% of the total global demand by 2030, worsening the
overall impact of the industry (Jones, 2018). The most effective strategies would be to buy
less, followed by reducing the use of the devices or making sure they are charged with
renewable energy, and finally, recycling effectively (Wynes & Nicholas, 2017).
The design of appliances can also play a key role in their impact, with companies such as
Fairphone offering modular appliances with replaceable parts which enable a long product
life (Haucke, 2018). Businesses can promote more sustainable consumption through
promoting the sharing of appliances which can entail that items are used more intensely
and resource use is reduced as fewer products are needed (Sandberg, 2021). Additionally,
businesses can link the pricing to the resource use of their appliances, such as HOMIE
washing machine rental where users pay per wash and the price increases with higher
laundry temperatures (Bocken et al., 2018).
Table 3 includes some of the key sufficiency strategies for electrical appliances.
Table 3. Business for Sufficiency strategies for electrical appliances
(Consume differently)
(Consume less)
(Don’t overconsume)
Less clutter
simplified & less
No ownership:
Appliance rental or
leasing (Gerrard
Paid sharing
platforms (Peerby)
No ownership + price
No ownership but pay
per use (HOMIE)
Moderate sales:
Sell fewer devices in
total, e.g., through
Question consumption:
Promote ‘appliance free’
Less speed
slower & more
Resale, refurbished
products (LEAPP)
Modular, adaptable
products (AIAIAI)
Green alternative:
Modular, durable, fair
(SHIFT Phone)
Life extension service:
Repair services (iDoc)
Long product
4-year warranty
Support customer to
replace appliances less
often (automatic
updates and repairs)
Less distance-
regional and
Green alternative:
Locally sourced
Transparent supply
chains (Fairphone)
Promote less appliance
use time and instead
local experiences
Question consumption:
Replace digital use with
local face-to-face
Less market
beyond commerce
Open-Source creation:
Open source code
Exchange platforms:
C2C resale platforms
Sharing platforms
(Library of Things)
Support for repair &
Provide spare parts
Repair manuals (iDoc)
Exchange platforms:
Repair knowledge share
(Fairphone community)
Promote less use and
collaborative use
In terms of businesses in the electrical appliances sector, sufficiency strategies largely work
towards either longer lifetimes and more intense use of the items or support a reduction of
use time, for instance through advocating more in-person experiences. While a reduced use
of items is environmentally beneficial (Wynes & Nicholas, 2017), the most sufficient option
would be to buy less. Buying fewer new items can be promoted through long product
lifetimes, with durable or modular designs, such as with the Fairphone or AIAIAI
headphones, through long product warranties or through repair support. More intense use
can be promoted through rental or subscription services, such as Gerrard Street
headphones, or through item reuse. As these appliances use energy, a pay per use service
could integrate differentiated pricing to encourage reduced energy use.
4.4 Transport strategies
For personal transportation, air transport has the highest impact in grams of greenhouse gas
emissions per kilometer travelled, followed by car transport and public transport (European
Environmental Agency, 2021). Going car free and avoiding transatlantic flights, as well as
switching to electric cars, or replacing them with hybrid models reduces the impact of
consumption the most (Wynes & Nicholas, 2017). Nevertheless, the best option of course is
to opt for low-carbon activities such as walking and cycling where possible, but some form
of longer distance transportation will likely continue to be part of personal transport.
In transport research, the Avoid-Shift-Improve model has been used to build a more
sustainable transport system (Creutzig et al., 2018). Unnecessary transport should be
avoided through remote working or compact city planning, mobility should shift from fossil
fuel-driven vehicles to cycling, walking or public transport and vehicles should be electrified
and more light-weight (Creutzig et al., 2018). Sandberg (2021) additionally points to the
potential of car- or bike-sharing to reduce private vehicle use and thereby consumption.
Table 4 includes some of the key sufficiency strategies for transportation.
Table 4. Business for Sufficiency strategies for transport
(Consume less)
(Don’t overconsume)
No ownership + price
Rental with pay per
distance or time driven
Rental with price
difference between
modes (Hely Hubs)
Promote short-
distance mobility over
Life extension service:
Repair service (Swapfiets)
Long product warranties:
Lifetime warranty (Giant
Question need to
travel fast (KLM Fly
Short distance
Promote short distance
options (ReNatour)
Support working from
home (e.g., Zoom; MS
Question need to
travel far (KLM Fly
Support for repair &
Repair manual
Repair training
Support for self-
Lower need to travel
for e.g., shopping
Sufficiency in mobility is first and foremost promoted through reducing the distances that
consumers have to travel, for instance by providing attractive alternatives at a shorter
distance and promoting local or regional travel. Businesses can also support the modal shift
away from private car use to cycling, walking and public transport, for instance through
offering mobility hub connections, as in the case of DB Connect or OV-fiets. Linked to this,
such mobility offers can promote shared mobility by offering mobility rental or leasing.
Finally, existing vehicles can be kept in use longer, through repair, durable design and reuse.
5. Summary
Consumption-based accounting provides relevant insights into how final consumption
expenditures drive environmental impacts. This is important because nowadays, many
goods are imported from abroad, and this impact is included in a consumption-based
accounting measure. Based on consumption-based accounting using GMRIO, food, housing,
appliances, and transport were found to be major drivers of a person’s environmental
footprint. Since business drives this demand for ever-increasing consumption and its
associated environmental impacts, this chapter investigated the following: Can business
have a positive role in supporting or even driving sustainable consumption, and if so, how?
The Business for Sufficiency framework (Niessen & Bocken, 2021b) was explained and
applied to understand possible strategies to drive sustainable consumption in a business
context. Based on applying the framework to the dominant sectors that drive consumption-
based environmental impact – food, housing, appliances, and transport – several viable
business strategies for sufficiency were identified, ranging from green alternatives, service-
driven business models, and platforms, to strategies focused on moderating consumption.
Many options also can also be linked to local low-carbon activities, often linked to greater
levels of wellbeing (Druckman & Gatersleben, 2019).
Policy and urban planning also have an important role to play. Many viable options appear
to be green alternatives; for more radical change, policies may need to be implemented at
the intersection of consumer rights and producer and more broadly, business,
responsibilities. While the EU Circular Economy Package (European Union, 2020) is seeking
to empower consumer to help increase the lifetime of products with a focus on ‘right to
repair’, availability of spare parts, warrantees and avoiding planned obsolescence, the focus
on sufficiency (i.e., a sufficiency-based circular economy; Bocken & Short, 2020) may help
guide even more stringent policies to curb unsustainable consumption patterns that are
detrimental to the environment and ultimately society itself. Furthermore, there is a
potential key role for urban planners (Prendeville et al., 2018). Urbanites tend to have lower
impacts (e.g., smaller houses, more use of public transport) than rural dwellers, and dense
cities with good public transportation options tend to have a lower impact than areas of
urban sprawl, which comes down to the need for sustainable urban planning.
Finally, the role of the individual and personal choice is extremely important and impactful
with regards to consumption. Car ownership, food habits (e.g., being a vegetarian or not),
energy choices (e.g., green energy): personal choices on how you live, consume, move
around, what you eat and buy drive environmental impact (Wynes & Nicholas, 2017). While
there seems to be greater attention for and knowledge about environmental issues, the
increasing impacts of climate change and biodiversity losses make action by all actors ever
more urgent. Future research may focus on viable (business for) sufficiency options that
target different levels of income (Scherer et al, 2019), household type, as well as gender
(Kanyama et al., 2021), as different environmental impact patterns have been identified for
these types. And, as outlined above, individual changes towards sustainable consumption
can be supported not only by peers, governments, or non-governmental organizations but
also by businesses who want to lead the way towards a sustainable economy.
Nancy Bocken and Laura Niessen were funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020’s
European Research Council (ERC) funding scheme [grant agreement No. 850159], as part of
project Circular X (
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To stay within planetary boundaries, we need to move into sustainable levels of resource consumption, or sufficiency. Businesses can play a key role in driving sufficiency as they satisfy and also create demand. This article investigates how a bicycle subscription company can promote sufficiency among its users, with a focus on modal shift and product care. It aims to fill the research gap on how business sufficiency strategies impact actual consumption, while also providing insights into the less studied business model of bicycle subscription. User mobility patterns and care behaviour are analysed through the lens of social practice theory. Using the subscription, many users experience a modal shift towards cycling, mostly replacing public transport, walking and car journeys. Around half of the respondents also cycle longer distances and more frequently than before the subscription. Yet, users might stop cycling after the subscription, often due to moving to areas with a poor cycling infrastructure. Concerning product longevity, subscribers differ, with some taking good care of the vehicle and others being less careful. The research shows some advances towards sufficiency but also highlights the limits of one company's actions and the importance of structural changes to promote sufficient consumption.
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The breaching of planetary boundaries and excessive extraction of natural resources requires a revisited approach to consumption and production. The concept of sufficiency, which advocates meeting human needs within the planetary limits by curbing excessive consumption levels, is gaining increasing attention. Businesses are drivers of consumption, yet they have been largely overlooked as potential leaders towards a sufficiency-based economy and research on businesses driving sustainable consumption strategically is still a niche. The methods applied here are a literature and practice review and interviews to understand the state-of-the-art in sufficiency-oriented business strategies and develop a framework for future research and practice. Merging English- and German-language research, a base matrix of the waste hierarchy and the four lessens is presented. This matrix is populated with business sufficiency strategies, condensing existing work and creating the ‘Business for Sufficiency’ (BfS) framework. Empirical research with businesses already employing sufficiency strategies refines and validates the framework and sheds light on the viability, desirability, feasibility and sustainability of such offers, highlighting barriers and opportunities. The most prevalent strategies fall into the Rethink framework dimension which require the least radical changes. In addition, interviewees highlighted obstacles in reconciling more radical strategies such as Moderating sales with their financial sustainability. Yet, all interviewees stressed the need for reduced consumption and the role that business should play in enabling sufficiency, demonstrating the relevance of this topic for future research and practice.
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This paper investigates how consumption‐based greenhouse gas emissions from private households can be reduced. The aim is to quantify opportunities for mitigation through shifting expenditure on food, holidays, and furnishings to less carbon‐intensive products and services that are available on the market but not yet mainstream. Two hundred and seventeen analyses of the greenhouse gas emissions/SEK for on‐the‐market products and services were used for estimating the consumption‐based greenhouse gas emissions from an average person, an average single man and an average single woman. The consumption‐based greenhouse gas emissions for these households were estimated to be 6.9, 10, and 8.5 tonnes per capita per year respectively; and food, holidays, and furnishings accounted for 56–59% of that. The alternatives to mainstream food, holidays, and furnishings include plant‐based alternatives to meat and dairy products, locally produced vegetables, second‐hand or repaired furnishings, holidaying abroad by train, and “staycations.” Our results show that total greenhouse gas emissions can be lowered by 36–38% by shifting the expenditure on these products and services to less carbon‐intensive alternatives without changing the total expenditure. The share of total emissions deriving from food, holidays, and furnishings is reduced to 30–35% after the change. The findings are discussed in the light of goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, additional sustainability aspects, the limitations of the study and needs for further research. This article met the requirements for a silver–silver JIE data openness badge described at
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Academic and business interest in sustainable business models (SBMs) as a potential solution to pressing global sustainability issues has grown significantly over the past decade. Yet, to date sectoral progress on business model innovation has been insufficient to address much of the social and environmental harm caused by, or facilitated by industry, and progress against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been disappointing. This study investigates the following research question: What are the dominant “unsustainable business model” types per sector that institutionalise social and environmental harm, and hold back progress on the SDGs, and what are the potential sustainable business model responses? This paper first investigates the dominant unsustainable business model types and potential sustainable business model solutions per key sector. Based on this analysis, a comprehensive overview of nine dominant unsustainable business model (UBM) archetypes and potential sustainable business responses are developed. The UBM archetypes are: 1) Environmental resource exploitation and waste; 2) Human resource exploitation and waste; 3) Economic exploitation; 4) Unhealthy or unsustainable offering; 5) Quantity over quality and value; 6) Addictive consumption pattern; 7) Complex opaque global value chain; 8) Short-term shareholder – not stakeholder value and 9) Financing and supporting unsustainable practices. Furthermore, a hierarchy of sustainable business model responses is introduced, showing the need for business to develop multiple initiatives, and a recognition that the focus for SBM innovation should be to some extent sector specific. Finally, directions for future research to transform dominant unsustainable business models are provided.
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It has been argued that halting environmental degradation requires an approach of sufficiency, which entails substantial changes in consumption patterns for high-consuming classes, including a reduction in consumption levels. This article reviews the literature on sufficiency, asking two main questions: What are the specific consumption changes that the sufficiency literature suggests to reduce ecological footprints, and how can such consumption changes be advanced? The article uses a combination of semi-systematic and integrative review methodologies. The article shows that sufficiency may entail four types of consumption changes: absolute reductions, modal shifts, product longevity, and sharing practices. It provides an overview of sufficiency practices across four consumption categories: housing, nutrition, mobility, and miscellaneous consumption. In addition, the article identifies barriers and actors that can prevent or advance sufficiency transitions. Barriers to sufficiency transitions include consumer attitudes and behavior, culture, the economic system, the political system, and the physical environment. Actors include businesses, policymakers, citizens, NGOs, and educators. The article advances our understanding of sufficiency as a concept and the multidimensionality of sufficiency transitions.
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Circular economy (CE) and sharing economy (SE) are much discussed concepts but potential links between them have not been examined systematically so far. The concepts’ popularity coupled with a lack of definitional consensus may hinder their potential to advance sustainability transitions. Hence, the first comparative bibliometric study of these two concepts was carried out. It was found that they share notable links in the fields of sustainability, business models, sustainable consumption and governance. Business model literature reveals links mostly in the realms of platform- and service-based activities. The field of SE has a strong consumer focus but, unlike CE, barely addressed rebound effects so far. Governance literature shows a general top-down dynamic driving CE, while SE is considered to be bottom-up. SE is conceptualized as a subset of CE which opens possibilities for mutual enrichment. The findings aim to provoke more dialogue between the CE and SE communities.
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Background The predominant focus of academic research on the sharing economy has been on Airbnb and Uber; to this extent, the diversity of business models ascribed to the sharing economy has not yet been sufficiently explored. Greater conceptual and empirical research is needed to increase understanding of business models in the sharing economy, particularly attributes that deliver on its purported sustainability potential. Objective We aimed to elaborate an improved sharing economy business modelling tool intended to support the design and implementation of sharing economy business models (SEBMs) with improved sustainability performance. Methods We used a structured approach to business modelling, morphological analysis, to articulate relevant business model attributes. Our analysis was informed by a narrative literature review of business and platform models in the sharing economy. We also iteratively tested, refined, and evaluated our analysis through three structured opportunities for feedback. Results The output of the morphological analysis was a sharing economy business modelling tool for sustainability, with stipulated preconditions and descriptions of all business model attributes. Conclusion The sharing economy is not sustainable by default, so we must be strategic and deliberate in how we design and implement SEBMs. The sharing economy business modelling tool should be of interest not only to researchers and practitioners, but also to advocacy organisations and policymakers who are concerned about the sustainability performance of sharing platforms.
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Food is an essential part of our daily lives, but simultaneously, it is a major contributor to environmental issues. The growing world population and changing diets are expected to further exacerbate the negative impact of food production and consumption. This article explores how sufficiency business strategies, focused on moderating consumption levels, can be implemented in the food industry to curb demand and thereby overall resource consumption. First, a literature and practice review are conducted to create a conceptual framework for sufficiency business strategies in the food industry. Second, a case study approach is taken to explore the application of sufficiency strategies at Oatly, a company offering plant-based alternatives to dairy. Semi-structured interviews and review of the company’s sustainability reports are used as key data sources for the case study. This study contributes to research and practice with a novel framework for business sufficiency strategies in the food industry. Although sufficiency implies consumption moderation, it is suggested that when a company substitutes the consumption of a less sustainable option, growth could be desirable. Future research can expand on viable sufficiency strategies for the private sector, but also strategies to engage different stakeholders, such as government, society, and academia, to accelerate the transition towards a sustainable food system.
To keep human resource consumption within planetary boundaries, individual consumption levels need to drop. We therefore investigated whether online communications interventions, especially on social media, can foster sufficiency in the clothing domain. In two experiments, consumption reduction and prolonging the lifetime of clothes were promoted. In Study 1, we conducted an online field intervention. All participants, both in the experimental and the control groups, reduced their clothing consumption. Hence, the intervention itself did not change clothing consumption levels. Study 2 was a laboratory experiment with sufficiency-promoting social media communication. Sufficiency-promoting communication led to more sufficiency behaviour compared to neutral and consumption-promoting communication. This effect was mediated by a lower desire to acquire new clothes (aspiration level). Peer endorsement of the communication by other social media users did not strengthen the communication’s effect. However, the attitude towards the sender and the communication was more positive in the sufficiency-promoting communication than under the other two conditions. Although the field intervention was not effective, social media posts could increase sufficiency behaviour in the short-term. To test long-term effects, further experimental studies are needed.
Housing plays a significant role in impelling demand for natural resources and driving economic growth in high-income countries. Public policies, commercial prerogatives, and other inducements have encouraged construction and occupancy of ever-larger homes and this pattern has persisted in the face of decreasing household size, declining fertility, ageing populations, and increasing complexity of domestic relationships. This situation has created a perverse mismatch between available housing stocks and residential requirements. Additionally, imperatives to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions and to hasten progress on the United Nations 2030 Agenda demand new planning priorities. Building on the sufficiency turn in the field of sustainable consumption, this paper first formulates parameters for estimating an environmentally tenable and globally equitable amount of per person living area. It then highlights five emblematic cases of “space-efficient” housing. While acknowledging that prevalent spatial norms are evolving, the conclusion discusses the profound challenges of achieving a successful sustainable consumption transition.
The clothing industry’s negative social and ecological impacts have been discussed for decades, both in academia and in mainstream media. As solutions, the existing management and supply chain research literature has emphasized eco-efficiency in production, recycling, and the use of sustainable materials. However, against the backdrop of rising consumption levels, these approaches have not achieved an overall reduction in the undesired social and environmental impacts. The sufficiency approach addresses this issue and aims to reduce the total amount of clothing that is produced, used and discarded. This consumer perspective is discussed as a potentially very effective sustainability approach, but has been neglected in the management literature relating to the clothing sector. Although the sufficiency approach is often seen to contradict business goals, recent developments of service- and sharing-oriented businesses indicate that sufficiency may actually inspire the development of new business opportunities. To address this research gap, this conceptual paper builds on a generic sufficiency management concept and incorporates ideas from the clothing-specific ‘slow fashion’ literature. It proposes a framework for sufficiency-oriented business offerings and investigates related management approaches for companies aiming to reduce social and environmental problems in the clothing sector.