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The consumer footprint: Monitoring sustainable development goal 12 with process-based life cycle assessment


Sustainable and responsible production and consumption are at the heart of sustainable development, explicitly mentioned as one of the sustainable development goals (SDG12). Life cycle assessment, with its inherent holistic approach, is considered a reference method for the assessment of environmental impact of production and consumption. This paper presents a study on the environmental impacts of final consumption in Europe in five areas of consumption: food, mobility, housing, household goods, and appliances. Based on the selection of a set of representative products to meet food, mobility, housing, and other consumers’ needs, environmental impacts of products are assessed over their full life cycle: from raw material extraction, to production, distribution, use, and end-of-life phase. Life cycle inventories of representative products are multiplied by consumption statistics to assess the impact of an average European citizen in 2010 and 2015. Impacts are assessed considering the sixteen impact categories of the Environmental Footprint method. Results reveal that food is the most relevant area of consumption driving environmental impacts. Use phase is the most relevant life cycle stage for many impact categories, especially for the areas of consumption housing, mobility, and appliances. For the areas of consumption food and household goods the most relevant life cycle phase is related to upstream processes, which corresponds to agricultural activities for food and manufacturing of products components for household goods. Apart from the results, the paper includes a detailed discussion on further methodological improvements and research needs to make use of the Consumer Footprint as an indicator for monitoring SDG 12 and for supporting sustainable production and consumption policies.