The 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg called for a comprehensive set of programs focusing on sustainable consumption and production. According to world leaders, these programs should rely on life cycle assessment (LCA) to promote sustainable patterns of production and consumption. Cleaner production is a well-established activity, and it uses LCA. UNEP, the European Union, and a number of national organizations have now begun to work on sustainable consumption. In developing sustainable consumption policies and activities, the use of LCA presents interesting opportunities that are not yet well-understood by policy makers. This paper reviews how life cycle approaches, primarily based on input−output analysis, have been used in the area of sustainable consumption:  to inform policy making, select areas of action, identify which lifestyles are more sustainable, advise consumers, and evaluate the effectiveness of sustainable consumption measures. Information on consumption patterns usually comes from consumer expenditure surveys. Different study designs and a better integration with consumer research can provide further interesting insights. Life-cycle approaches still need to be developed and tested. Current research is mostly descriptive; policy makers, however, require more strategic analysis addressing their decision options, including scenario analysis and backcasting.

Edgar G. Hertwich