Resource use of low-income households--approach for defining a decent lifestyle?

Sci Total Environ. 2014 May 15;481:681-4. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.11.048. Epub 2013 Dec 16.


A decent, or sufficient, lifestyle is largely considered an important objective in terms of a sustainable future. However, there can be strongly varying definitions of what a decent lifestyle means. From a social sustainability point of view, a decent lifestyle can be defined as the minimum level of consumption ensuring an acceptable quality of life. From an ecological sustainability point of view, a decent lifestyle can be defined as a lifestyle that does not exceed the carrying capacity of nature in terms of natural resource use. The paper presents results of a study on the natural resource use of 18 single households belonging to the lowest income decile in Finland. The yearly "material footprint" of each household was calculated on the basis of the data gathered in a questionnaire and two interviews. The results show that the natural resource use of the participating households was lower than the one of the average consumer. Furthermore, 12 of 18 households had a smaller material footprint than the "decent minimum" reference budget defined by a consumer panel. However, the resource use of all the households and lifestyles studied is still higher than long-term ecological sustainability would require. The paper concludes that the material footprint is a suitable approach for defining and measuring a decent lifestyle and provides valuable information on how to dematerialize societies towards sustainability.

Keywords: Consumption; Ecological backpack; Lifestyle; Material footprint; Natural resource use; Sufficiency.

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Policy
  • Environmental Pollution / statistics & numerical data
  • Family Characteristics
  • Housing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Income / statistics & numerical data*
  • Life Style
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data*