Reducing consumption

We all depend on the Earth for every day resources – land and water to produce food, for example.

But humanity’s consumption of resources:

  • Is not sustainable. We are continuing to destroy nature across the world, for example through deforestation, mining and farming.
  • Is not fairly distributed.

Did you know?

typical European uses 1.3 hectares of land each year (to grow food, textiles for clothes, wood for fuel and housing, and so on).

But in India or China a person uses only around 0.4 hectares.


We're working on reducing consumption of resources in the EU through:

1) Measuring consumption of resources

It’s vital that governments and companies understand the amount of resources they use. Once they do this they can set targets to manage them.

We’ve found that the best way to measure use of resources is through the four footprints:

  1. Land footprint
    The real land we are using for our food, timber and so on, wherever it is in the world.
  2. Water footprint
    The quantity of water used in the life cycle of a product or by a country.
  3. Material footprint
    The total tonnage of material extracted to make a product, or a country’s consumption.
  4. Carbon footprint
    The greenhouse gas emissions produced during the lifecycle of a product. Or the emissions produced by a country, including its consumption of goods.

Read more about how we’re persuading the EU to measure resources.

2) More efficient use of resources

Given that resources cost money, it’s a wonder that we waste so many of them.

Individuals and businesses use resources inefficiently and throw them out as rubbish. The rubbish then ends up in landfills or incinerators.

Instead everyone could be reusing or recycling more resources – saving money for themselves and easing the pressure on the environment.

One recent study found that if UK businesses became more resource efficient they could:

  • Make £10 billion more profits
  • Create 314,000 jobs
  • Reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 27 million tonnes.

We're working:

  • At an EU level. We helped ensure the EU set its first overall recycling target – 50% by 2020. But this is only the start of what is needed.
  • To encourage companies to reduce waste, as part of our work on company reporting.

3)  Changing the way we consume things

Reducing waste is important, but societies also need to cut the amount they consume in the first place.

We’re promoting changes in consumption. For example:


Key briefing

Seven ways Europe can use fewer resources


Find out more


Useful information

The United Nations Environment Programme’s International Resource Panel produces reports on global resource use.

Friends of the Earth’s REdUSE project looks at the impacts of the extraction of particular resources such as aluminium, cotton and lithium.

The Government funded UK WRAP works on a wide range of resource efficiency projects, including developing new ways of recycling plastic.

UK Without Incineration Network works to prevent the building of incinerators and promote more sustainable alternatives.