Five ways in which unsustainable consumption and production impact the environment

The global consumption amounted to 30,5 trillion USD in 2006, which was 28% higher than ten years earlier and six times higher than the consumption year 1960. The global population increase can, to a certain extent, explain the rise in consumption. However, when eliminating that effect, consumption has tripled per capita compared with 1960.

The world’s ecological footprint, which measures the number of resources that humanity uses, shows that our lifestyle corresponded to 1,69 planets in 2016. If everyone had the same standard of living as we have in Sweden, this would be equivalent to 4 planets (2016). On the other hand, would we live the way people live in, for example, Mozambique, Kenya, or Tanzania (0,5 – 0,75 earths, 2016), we would live in a sustainable world! These countries are a few examples of countries living below the world’s biocapacity.

When it comes to private consumption, food, transport, and housing stand for 70 – 80% of the environmental impact. Swedish consumption caused approximately 95 million tons of carbon emissions in 2003 if we include the production that happened outside the nation’s borders. When digging deeper into the production, the following areas affect the environment the most: combustion processes, use of solvents, agriculture, metal extraction & refining, use of heavy metals, housing & infrastructure, marine industries, ¬†and chemical industries (Naturv√•rdsverket och Kemikalieinspektionen, 2010).

So, in which ways do unsustainable consumption and production affect the environment? Let us explore five different environmental issues that are directly caused by overconsumption:

  1. Climate Change
    With increased global consumption, the burning of fossil fuels has increased. Today we have already used 2.000 billion tons of carbon dioxide from our total global carbon budget. To have a 50% chance to stay below the 2-degree target, we can only emit an additional 1.600-billion-ton carbon dioxide and only 700-billion-ton carbon dioxide to have a 75% chance to succeed.

    We already see global temperature rise effects with increased heat, drought, insect outbreak, more natural disasters, etc. If we continue interfering with the climate, we can expect a further rise in the world’s temperature, causing problems like sea level rises, flooding, and extreme water shortage. In addition, parts of Amazonas would likely become savanna, the coral reef would not survive, and sensitive fish stocks would collapse.

  2. Change in land use and forestry
    Apart from the carbon emissions, consumption and production already cause other problems today. The change in land use and forestries like deforestation of rainforest to create pasture and arable land has a significant negative impact on biological diversity, among other issues.

  3. Pollutants
    Burning fossil fuels also cause pollutants that cause severe health issues. Air pollution is estimated to cause the death of seven million people worldwide every year, according to WHO. The premature deaths result in increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections.

    Apart from causing health issues, sulfur and nitrogen oxides, for example, cause acidification and overfertilization in the environment that negatively affect the ecosystems.

  4. Chemicals and hazardous substances
    The chemicals and hazardous substances’ impact on the environment is another area worth mentioning. Chemicals are used directly or indirectly in most produced goods, causing a hundred million tons of hazardous waste per year. In countries with a lack of environmental legislation, the chemical emissions can be a hundred times larger than in countries with stricter legislation. This affects the local environment, but nearby regions also get involved as chemical dispersion is a cross-border issue.

    The substances can lead to health issues for humans as injuries to the nervous system, poisoning, cancer, asthma, and allergies. Environmental problems can be climate change, a depleted ozone layer, over-fertilization of watercourses, pollution, and widespread impact on ecosystems.

  5. Water shortage
    A shortage of water is yet another problem directly caused by consumption and production. As some products, primarily food (especially animal products), require vast amounts of water for their production, we automatically import water from other countries when buying imported goods. Sweden’s water footprint is approximately 5.500 liters per capita and day. When the goods are imported from water shortage regions, this causes problems in the local environment like dried up rivers, destroyed habitats, and extinct species.

To summarize, we face many social and environmental problems that correlate strongly with unsustainable consumption and production. We have mentioned a few examples, but the list of problems our excessive consumption and unsustainable lifestyle are causing is long. It is essential for us at New Logic to do what we can to accelerate the transition towards a sustainable world. We believe that by helping sustainable brands to grow, we contribute to a healthier and happier world.

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