Sustainable Consumption

Sustainable consumption means making more-conscious choices and in some cases buying less – and fundamentally keeping the social and ecological aspects of products and services in view. As a topic it is again gaining momentum in political circles: since 2016 the German Sustainable Development Strategy has for the first time included an indicator-linked goal for sustainable consumption. Sustainable consumption does not just concern private households. Public-sector procurement practice can also be an important amplifier and can help change the market.

Using consumption choices to contribute to sustainable development

Through their consumption and lifestyle choices, average citizens have the potential to change whole industries. According to self-assessments, around 60 per cent of people in Germany sometimes take into consideration when shopping whether a product is sustainable or not. Actual purchase numbers are quite a bit lower, however. Sustainable consumption may be trendy, but it is far from being a dominant force on the market. Many a time, savings in one area are eaten up by increased consumption in another area (the so-called rebound effect). Adopting an overall sustainable lifestyle is thus crucial.

And not all aspects are within the consumer’s own control, meaning outside conditions often present an obstacle to sustainable consumption. Making well-founded decisions in favour of sustainable products is often not possible. Except for a few trustworthy seals, the flood of labels frequently provides very little helpful orientation. Even under consideration of this limitation, however, it is certainly possible to reduce the so-called ecological footprint within an individual’s own sphere of influence. This has far less to do with purchasing products and is rather a question of changing shopping, cooking or travel habits. A per capita ecological footprint of two tonnes would represent an environmentally responsible level; currently, the level in Germany is 11.8 tonnes per capita. One important aspect is the reduction of food waste. The German federal government has set itself the goal of halving this by 2030 in order to conserve resources and help achieve climate targets.

Sustainable procurement

The public sector also has important potential for leverage when it comes to promoting sustainable products and services. With an estimated volume of 150 to 500 billion euros, public-sector procurement accounts for 5.5 to 18 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Despite the possibilities legally, only a small portion is currently purchased following sustainability criteria. Reliable data regarding the sum total of procurement is not available to date. However, one thing is for sure: sustainability needs to play a larger role here too. To this end, the “Sustainability Action Programme” was developed in order to concretely implement sustainability throughout all administrative activities. The federal government’s Competence Centre for Sustainable Procurement provides all interested parties at federal, state and municipal level with advisory services and education.

At its largest event – the annual conference with around 1,000 participants – the Sustainability Council sets the benchmark for sustainable event management.

The Sustainable Shopping Basket: guidance on sustainable consumption

For citizens to make their consumption more sustainable, they need corresponding information and guidance to be available to them. The Council for Sustainable Development’s guide “The Sustainable Shopping Basket” provides information on transactions of all kinds, from buying organic food all the way to sustainable investing. It presents the most important, highly credible seals and provides orientational guidelines that can be applied in everyday practice. The Sustainable Shopping Basket is updated regularly in order to take the current status of discourse into account. With this project, the Council endeavours to help make sustainability a part of everyday life. Since September 2019, the RENN.south has been responsible for publishing the Shopping Basket’s content (read more in the German press release here). 


Currently, the topic area “Sustainable Consumption” is not actively managed. You can find a lot of information and contact details on the website of our partner project “Sustainable Shopping Basket”.