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Facing the Consumer / Citizen: Transforming our Consumption Patterns

Monday 21 October 9.45-11.00, the Eigtveds Pakhus, Copenhagen

Moderator:  Mr. Peter Bakker, President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)

Key note speaker:
H.E. Ms. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minster, Denmark
H.E. Mr. John Dramani Mahama, President, Ghana

Mr. Harry Hendriks, Executive Chairman Global Government & Public Affairs, Philips
Ms. Yolanda Kakabadse, President, WWF International
Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director, UNEP
Ms. Sanda Ojiambo, Head of Corporate Responsibility, Safaricom Limited


The world is experiencing a historic shift of economic and political power from industrialized countries to emerging economies - but also a shift in consumer power.  Emerging economies already account for more than half of the world’s GDP and will be home to 85% of the global population by 2050. Some three billion people are expected to join the global middle class by 2030.  Demand from the new middle class is ex-pected to grow from US$ 21 trillion today to US$ 56 trillion in 2030. This will exponentially increase the demand for energy, natural resources and materials more broadly, thereby further exacerbating pressure on the world’s ecosystems and on our social institutions. Meeting the needs and aspirations of the growing global middle class in a sustainable way will be critical.

Technological innovation and resource efficiency in the manufacturing of products will not be sufficient to make consumption and production patterns sustainable. In many regions of the world, consumption growth outweighs efficiency. And in the more wealthy regions of the world environmental and climate impacts are increasingly embedded in products produced in other world regions. Significant change will therefore also be required at the level of individual lifestyles and consumption, and in the products and services made available to consumers.

The material use of an average European’s lifestyle has been calculated at 40-60 tons of material use each year.  A sustainable level of material use per individual per year has been calculated at 7-10 tons (based on material resource availability and taking into account planetary boundaries).  According to these calculations the average individual lifestyle material use needs to be reduced by a factor of 4-6. 

In emerging economies and markets, individual lifestyle material use is on the rise and studies show that as low-income consumers move into the middle class they aspire to lifestyles that would equate to the 40-60 tons material use lifestyles of Europeans.

In both developing and developed countries, there will be a need for new solutions that dematerial-ize/decarbonize and lower the footprint of individual lifestyles, products and services, as well as for de-mand- side solutions that motivate and enable sustainable consumer behavior. 

Session goals

At the end of the session, the high-level panel:

  • Explored visions for a more sustainable lifestyles, and what enabling framework conditions are needed for the future middle class consumer to live well within one planet;
  • Examined key drivers and trends in relation to consumer behaviour and citizen action for sustainable living;
  • Explored approaches and solutions to how government and business leaders can further help to promote sustainable living.

The session energized and inspired participants to take ideas, solutions and challenges with them as they go back to their business or organization. Furthermore, it reinforce the important role of finance, innovation, and governance to prepare for the inevitable sustainability risks and challenges that will materialize.

Session flow

Part I of the session was kicked off by keynote speeches from two Heads of States sharing their visions for sustainable societies that enable sustainable living amongst the growing middle class and about the kind of framework conditions that currently exist and will be set in place. This was followed by reactions from the multistakeholder panel of CEOs and from world leading multinational companies, ministers and an investment fund who will focus examples of current solutions that are already helping to realize such visions.

Part II of the session included a tightly moderated panel who will share successful and replicable case studies of solutions for sustainable living and in particular their work to engage consumers / citizens in sustainability that has “stuck”. CEOs and ministers then explored in greater detail how these solutions can be taken to scale across markets. They set the stage for more specific 3GF partnership collaboration.

Proposed discussion questions (for Part II)

  • Please share with us successful examples and new ideas on how to engage the consumer/citizen; creating the demand for sustainable solutions that address the visions we have just heard
  • What is the size of the opportunity / business case for companies and brands to invest in new busi-ness models delivering sustainable lifestyle solutions?
  • What are the investment opportunities in enabling sustainable living?
  • How is sustainable consumption and sustainable lifestyles evolving? Where is the evidence?
  • What collaborative actions are needed to further support the systemic change needed for the emerging middle class to transition to sustainable living?