Responsible consumption: definition and examples

What is the definition of responsible consumption? How can we be responsible consumers and make more consumption choices that are good for the planet and for society? e-CSR decrypts it for you. 

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For several years, we have become increasingly aware of the impact of our daily consumption. It affects not only society and the economy but also our planet and our health.  As a result, the media, consumers and businesses are increasingly talking about “responsible consumption” or “responsible drinking”. But what does it really mean? How can we consume responsibly? Let’s find out.

Definition: Responsible Consumption – What is it?

Responsible consumption is a way of consumption that takes into account the foundations of sustainable development. That is to say, this is a way of consuming that is beneficial considering 3 different cornerstones, by no specific order. First, it benefits the economy, especially the local economy, as it allows goods and services to be traded, benefiting the agents involved in these trades. Secondly, it has a positive impact on society, as the products or services purchased are linked to a workforce that has fair wages and working conditions and they’re also positively good for the buyers (in matters such as health). Finally, a responsible consumer also acknowledges the impacts associated with products’ different stages (from its production, transportation, and disposal) and tries to buy the ones with a lower impact.

Responsible Consumption or Sustainable Consumption?

Sometimes we also use the term “sustainable consumption” when we talk about responsible consumption. However, the definition of responsible consumption is wider than the definition of sustainable consumption. Sustainable consumption applies more specifically to the concept of sustainability, that is to say, the environmental dimension of purchasing goods and services. The Ministry of Sustainable Development defines sustainable consumption in three dimensions:

  • Buying better – buying greener products;
  • Consuming better – wasting less and having a more sustainable consumption;
  • Throwing away better – take into account recycling in particular.

By its turn, responsible consumption has a larger meaning. It implies the concept of consumer responsibility which can affect many areas from the ecological impact of consumption to its social, economic and health impact. To better distinguish both:

  •  Sustainable consumption means to consume in a way that allows us to preserve our resources and the environment as much as possible.
  • Responsible consumption means instead to have a consumption which is more environmentally friendly but also considers the social and economic impacts of consumption.

How to define responsible consumption concretely?

Responsible consumption is a broad concept that has not only an environmental dimension but also an economic, social and health dimensions. In reality, the trendy side of responsible consumption is variable since it depends on the sensitivity of consumers. Some responsible consumers will focus on the ecological side of their consumption, trying to choose seasonal, organic and ecological products. Others will focus on the impact that their choices will have on the economy by choosing locally produced products. There are also the ones who’ll choose their products according to what’s best for their health.

If a definition of responsible consumption was to be given, it would be a consumption that meets at least one or more of the following criteria:

  • Consumption of green products that have a low impact on the environment:
    • Products from certified sectors respecting the environment or biodiversity;
    • Commodities with a low carbon footprint;
    • Organic products;
    • Goods that preserve the quality of soil, water and air and generally prevent pollution, deforestation and the depletion of natural resources.
  • Consumption of products according to their respect for social norms and their impact on societies:
    • Goods made in good working conditions, without forced child labor and that respect working hours and international conventions;
    • Products manufactured in compliance with ethical standards (especially corruption);
    • Goods made in cooperation with local communities, respecting their lifestyles and business profit (such as fair trade).
  • Consumption of “healthier” products, respecting health standards:
    • Products without phthalates, bisphenol, and other toxic and dangerous products;
    • Commodities without pesticides or other chemical inputs;
    • Goods manufactured in accordance with hygiene standards;
    • Food products with healthy nutritional composition.
  • Consumption of products with a positive economic impact:
    • Locally made products;
    • Productions that encourage the economic autonomy of their producers (as opposed to reliance on commercial or industrial systems such as supermarkets);
    • Goods that create more jobs as well as economic and social integration for workers;
    • Products that promote employees’ work-life quality.
  • The consumption of products manufactured under conditions respecting certain ethical or moral principles:
    • Respect for animal welfare;
    • Respect for fairness and individual freedoms;
    • Any other principle contributing to the development of the general interest.

Responsible consumption: an individual definition

As we’ve seen, the definition of responsible consumption is homogeneous and depends on consumers’ concerns. The essential point of responsible consumption is to be aware of the impacts of consumption on these various criteria and to act to make this consumption more positive.

Responsible consumption issues: a question defining priorities

By engaging in responsible consumption, we can act at very different levels, on economic, social or ecological issues.

Sometimes, the issues of responsible consumption can even be contradictory. For example, consuming made in France is good for the national economy, employment, economic development, but perhaps bad for the environment. Thus, it is known that French strawberries have a greater carbon impact than Spanish strawberries, even if imported and transported by truck. The same life cycle analysis has even been conducted in the UK and shows that “national” strawberries emit 41% more CO2 than strawberries imported from Spain.

Depending on whether we put ecology and the protection of ecosystems at the front, our health, employment or the local economy, different steps towards responsible consumption can be walked.

Examples of responsible consumption approach: how to consume responsibly?

It is therefore impossible to give an example or a global approach of responsible consumption. Nevertheless, to be a more responsible consumer, there are certain strategies.

Consumption and responsible food

In terms of food, a “responsible consumer” will probably be a consumer who tries to avoid as much as possible food waste. This consumer is likely to favor a more ecological consumption of its food (by choosing less polluting foods), which favors products that are good for the planet, but also the short circuits.

Responsible consumption: how to shop?

Practicing responsible consumption also means knowing better the products being bought and their environmental, social or economic impact. The problem is that sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a product from a responsible brand or not! But there are more and more tools to be better guided in this daily responsible consumption journey. In particular, one can learn about the CSR strategy of different brands.

Responsible consumption: a question of information

We should also keep in mind that many of our daily purchases have an impact on the environment or the economy and act accordingly. Thus, one must be aware of the impact of certain products or services: