Handbook of Research on Sustainable Consumption
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Handbook of Research on Sustainable Consumption

Edited by Lucia A. Reisch and John Thøgersen

This Handbook compiles the state of the art of current research on sustainable consumption from the world’s leading experts in the field. The implementation of sustainable consumption presents one of the greatest challenges and opportunities we are faced with today. On the one hand, consumption is a wanted and necessary phenomenon important for society and the economy. On the other, our means of consumption contradicts many important ecological and social long-term goals. Set against this background, the Handbook aims to offer an interdisciplinary overview of recent research on sustainable consumption, to draw attention to this subject and to encourage discussion and debate. In 27 chapters, leading authorities in the field provide their expertise in a concise and accessible manner.
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Chapter 24: Decoupling resource consumption and economic growth: insights into an unsolved global challenge

Peter Hennicke and Dorothea Hauptstock


In the face of climate change, global demographic developments and growing resource use, natural capital in the form of not only resources but also sinks (for example the atmosphere as a dump for greenhouse gas emissions) is becoming increasingly scarce. Therefore, the decoupling of resource consumption from economic growth (that is, less used natural resources per unit of economic output) and impact decoupling (that is, reduced environmental impact of resource use and economic activities) are necessary condition for sustainable development (UNEP 2011). To this day, there exists no agreed solution for this challenge, despite the increasing risks of irreversible changes of the global earth system (‘tipping points’). To minimize these risks, politics, business and civil society have to take considerably more action than they have done until today. Although unsustainable trends have driven the world economy ‘beyond the limits’ (Meadows et al. 1992) and an overshoot of ‘planetary boundaries’ (Rockström et al. 2009) is threatening mankind, a resource efficiency revolution in combination with sufficiency policies could be a promising step towards a solution. Scenarios for the global energy sector (e.g. WWF et al. 2011) and for specific countries such as Germany (see Hennicke et al. 2011 for a comparison of scenarios) have clearly demonstrated the technical feasibility for absolute decoupling of gross domestic product (GDP) from primary energy consumption up to 2050.

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