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Sustainable consumption

The world’s population consume more resources in the space of a year than the Earth is able to replace. We would need one and a half Earth-quality planets to meet the demand for food and renewable raw materials. By 2030, this would be two Earths and by 2050 nearly three. If all the people in the world lived a similar lifestyle to people in Germany, we would already be at the stage of needing three whole planets.

How has this been calculated?
If you were to take the yields from all the productive land available across the globe, such as fields, forests and grasslands plus all the commercially exploitable areas of ocean and share them out among everyone equally, each of us would have a hypothetical 1.8 global hectares (gha), or 18,000 m2, to ourselves. This figure is then compared to a country’s ‘Ecological Footprint’, which is calculated based on its consumption of food, water and energy plus the volume of carbon dioxide released as a waste product in the process. For Ghana , this figure was 2.0 gha in 2012, slightly larger than the space to which each individual in the world would notionally be entitled. In other words, if everyone in the world had Ghana’s ‘Ecological Footprint’, there would more or less be a balance between Earth’s biocapacity on the one hand and consumption on the other. Whatever was consumed in the course of a year could grow back. One planet Earth would almost be enough.

By way of comparison, Germany had an ‘Ecological Footprint’ of 5.03 gha in 2012. 5.03 gha divided by 1.78 gha is 2.82. This means that, every year, people in Germany consume 2.82 times more than the Earth system can provide in biocapacity. Put another way, we would need 2.82 planet Earths to meet consumption demand over the long term. More figures for comparison purposes (in gha per capita): EU-27 average 2.1; USA 8.2; Japan 5.0; Brazil 3.1; China 3.4. For more information on this topic, read the Living Planet Report.

There is no ‘spare Earth’
As the Earth is a finite system in which the necessary biocapacity cannot easily be replaced, countries like Germany are called on to reduce their consumption of resources to a globally sustainable level. Every one of us can help to preserve resources through our behaviour as consumers. Here you can find eight guidelines for more sustainable consumption (German only).
Here are some consumer tips on handling waste electrical and electronic equipment (German only).

Calculate your own Ecological Footprint here.

What do people think sustainable lifestyles will look like in 2050? As part of a project, the Wuppertal-based Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production is considering this question in several countries all across the world. One such country is Ghana, where a workstudio entitled ‘Collaboration and Sustainability: A Multi-Sectoral Path for Growth’ was held in 2013. Download the report.

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