Material Footprint of Low-income Households in Finland – is it Sustainable?
Published: 02 November 2011 by Molecular Diversity Preservation International in Proceedings of The 1st World Sustainability Forum in The 1st World Sustainability Forum session Environmental Sustainability
Molecular Diversity Preservation International, 10.3390/wsf-00729
Abstract: A decent, or sufficient, lifestyle is largely considered an important objective in terms of a sustainable future. From an ecological sustainability point of view, a the natural resource consumption of a decent lifestyle should not exceed the long-term carrying capacity of nature. The material footprint based on the MIPS concept (material input per unit of service) can be used as an indicator of the natural resource consumption of lifestyles. Thus, it can provide a rough indication of the long-term ecological sustainability of lifestyles when compared to the level of natural resource consumption that is estimated sustainable. Previous research shows that low-income households consume a relatively small amount of resources. Thus the material footprint of their consumption is assumed to be closer to the ecologically sustainable level of resource use than the consumption of an average household. In order to show the amount of natural resources a minimum consumption level requires, this paper presents the material footprint of households living on a minimum level of social benefits in the Finnish welfare state. The data was collected in a questionnaire on the consumption habits and lifestyles of 18 single households belonging to the lowest income decile in Finland. The results are compared to the results of a previous study on the material footprints of households with varying income levels as well as of an average Finn. In addition, the results are compared to the material footprint of decent minimum reference budgets defined consensually by the Finnish National Consumer Research Centre in a cooperation of experts and a consumer panel. The results show that the low-income households have a lower material footprint than average. Thus, a decrease in material footprint by a factor of 2 - 4 from present average can already be achieved. However, the resource consumption of all the households studied is still higher, in most cases by a factor of 2 and more, than long-term ecological sustainability would require although it is in most cases lower than the material footprint of the social and economic minimum defined for a decent life. The paper discusses this discrepancy and presents conclusions in order to make future lifestyles more sustainable. The central conclusion is that ecologically sustainable consumption cannot be achieved solely by households\' efforts but there is a great need for innovations in technology, business and politics.
Keywords: resource consumption, low income households, material footprint, Term Ecological, lifestyles more sustainable