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Walking in the Shoes of Future Middle Class Consumers

Monday 20 October 10.15-10.45, the Eigtveds Pakhus, Copenhagen

Moderator: Michael Kundt, Director, Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP) 

Active participants:
H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, Prime Minister, The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Mr. Wang Xiaokang, Chairman, China Energy Conservation and Environmental Protection Group (CECEP)
Mr. Alejandro Molina, Chief Technical and Supply Chain Officer, Arca Continental
Mr. David Gilford, Vice President and Director, New York City Economic Development Corporation

Wrap up:
H.E. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister, Denmark 


Today an average European consumes 40-60 tons of material each year. A sustainable level of material use per individual has however been calculated at 7-10 tons per year which means that the average individual lifestyle material use needs to be reduced by about 80 %. At the same time, the size of the middle class is significantly expanding globally and their consumption will increase accordingly. Studies show that as low-income consumers move into the middle class they aspire to lifestyles that would equate to the current material use of Europeans.

Considering material resource availability, technological innovation and resource efficiency in the manufacturing of products will not be sufficient to make the future consumption and production patterns sustainable. We need significant change at both the level of individual lifestyles and consumption and in the products and services made available to consumers. A main challenge to achieve these changes is that future individual consumers will not compromise on quality, convenience, price or status when it comes to purchasing decisions. At the same time, future businesses will not compromise on growth targets which are often driven by another set of actors: investors and financial markets.

New transformative approaches towards sustainable consumption and production are thus needed. This can be achieved by understanding the needs and demands of future consumers and thereby identifying solutions that can reduce the volume rather than the value of what we consume. It is not a question of reducing economic growth but moving it onto a green growth path where we get more value out of less material. The understanding of future consumption behavior will clarify ways to create and scale-up both green production patterns and social value through various lifestyle initiatives and business models and thus inspire multi-stakeholder collaboration to support sustainable living.

Session description

The session was introduced by a short film presenting different future middle class consumers from the year 2025 (covering various ages, family status, professional and social backgrounds).

These four future middle class consumers entered the plenary room and introduce themselves for the audience. They followed up by interviewing four representatives from the audience on their visions of the future and their ideas to initiate future sustainable lifestyles today.

Wrapping up the session, the moderator interviewed the Danish Prime Minister about the main take-aways to enable citizens to live more sustainably today and in the future.

Session goals

The purpose of this session was to set the scene for this year’s theme and to inspire participants by going beyond panel discussions. By introducing four future middle class consumers, participants got a sense of their consumption behavior and personal aspirations. This encouraged participants to identify opportunities for actions towards enabling sustainable lifestyles in the future.

Proposed discussion questions

The session focused on the following questions:

  • Looking into the future with questions like: What is your vision of a sustainable lifestyle in 2025 and what do you think are the strongest demands from future consumers?
  • Action planning: What could policy-makers do with other stakeholders to help today’s consumers live more sustainably and what opportunities do you envision that business and other partners have today for addressing the “middle-class” consumers?