Rethinking consumerism: the rise of sustainable lifestyles

A new program by the United Nations aims to promote and mainstream the shift towards more sustainable lifestyles to help promote resource efficiency and help protect the planet’s resources for future generations. Transforming lifestyles to be more sustainable will require us to rethink our ways of living, how we buy and what we consume – so that we begin to live in balance with nature.


The 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (10YFP) is rethinking consumerism in a world destined for a global population of around 9.6 billion by 2050, which would require (at the current rate of consumersim) – the equivalent of almost three planets to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.

Mainstreaming sustainable lifestyles into decision-making processes at all levels, and in all forms of education, is critical to reversing this trend and overcoming global challenges such as climate change, and poverty eradication. That is why UNEP has also recently launched a 10YFP Sustainable Lifestyles and Education Programme (SLE). The SLE programme will act as a partnership to advance sustainable lifestyles at the international, regional and national levels. It will work to ensure that positive contributions are made by sustainable lifestyles to addressing global challenges, such as sustainable consumption and production patterns, climate change mitigation and adaptation, resource and biodiversity conservation, poverty eradication and social well-being.

The programme will have three main work areas: developing and replicating sustainable lifestyles (including low-carbon lifestyles), educating for sustainable lifestyles (including mobilizing and empowering youth) and transforming current and shaping future generation’s lifestyles. Specific contexts, cultures and norms will need to be considered as societies rethink the way they are organized and make their consumption choices.

We urgently need to change current unsustainable consumption patterns and shift towards more sustainable lifestyles,” said Peter Repinski, Head of Climate, Energy and Society Unit at Stockholm Environment Institute, on behalf of the Government of Sweden, co-lead of the SLE programme. “Sustainable lifestyles need to move from a few good examples to the new default way of consumption. This programme on sustainable lifestyles and education is a much needed opportunity to take these issues from theory into practice at a global level.”

For some people, sustainable consumption and lifestyles are still an unfamiliar concept, or stamped with the stigma of imposing limits, lowering standards of living and increasing expenses. Others unintentionally find themselves “locked in” to unsustainable options. In addition most learning processes still focus on what is unsustainable, rather than on how to achieve more sustainable practices.

We can all make better choices about the sustainability of the food, water, energy and materials that we purchase and consume – but only if we are aware of the implications and options,” said Jean-Paul Paddack, Director of International Business Development at WWF International.

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