Much of our collective carbon footprint is tied directly to our consumer behavior.

US Greenhouse Gas Emissions (US EPA 2009)

A new understanding of the link between consumption patterns and climate change is emerging in local climate action planning. In their efforts to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, cities typically have focused on emissions from the direct and indirect use of fossil fuels (e.g. transportation, building heat, electricity). But further analysis of these emissions reveals something important:  a significant portion is “embodied” in the goods and food we consume.  In 2009, EPA estimated that 42% of domestic emissions were from the provision of goods and food produced nationally.   

Sustainable consumption presents a strategic opportunity for North American cities to reduce their GHG emissions and mitigate local impacts of climate change.

Consumption-related emissions become even more significant when you consider the impact of goods and food imported into your community. This short video explains the significance of consumption-related emissions in a globalized economy:

Cities are bringing this new understanding into their climate action efforts by:

  • Using new accounting methods to estimate the total global emissions of meeting local consumer demand, including those associated with goods/food produced outside the community;

  • Including specific actions in their Climate Action Plans to reduce consumption-related emissions;

  • Considering new community greenhouse reduction goals that reflect this broader set of global emissions tied to local consumption.

Climate Planning Spotlight

The City of Portland, assisted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, recently conducted a Consumption-Based Emissions Inventory or CBEI. The inventory measures a community’s emissions viewed through a consumption lens, capturing both local and global emissions tied to the consumption of goods, food and services. Key finding: global emissions associated  with local consumer demand are more than twice the volume of emissions produced locally! Read more in the Portland Climate Action Plan.

Make consumption part of your Climate Action Plan: This toolkit provides examples for addressing consumption in your local greenhouse gas emissions inventories and related climate action plans.