Sustainable ConsumptionStudy reveals: High environmental awareness does not translate automatically into a positive ecological balance

A current study of the German Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) examines the role of income as a main influencing factor for the environmental impact and consumption of consumers. In doing so and for the first time in Germany, a representative data set has been created which encompasses the resource and energy consumption as well as CO2 emissions for various consumption areas and socio-economic groups. Based on this data, different energy consumption types were identified yielding the following results:

  • Long-distance flights, car ownership, apartment size and insulation as well as meat consumption are positively correlated with income and mainly contribute to private CO2-consumption. Its relation to the average CO2-consumption is, in turn, determined by the household’s earnings.
  • Consumers evaluating themselves as environmentally conscious possess more energy-efficient home appliances, buy more organic products, eat less meat and are more likely to vote in favor of environmental policy measures. However, they generate higher CO2-emissions as the impact of environmentally damaging consumption practices, such as long-distance travels, is common and mostly ignored.
  • Low-income consumers consider themselves as less resource-friendly and environmentally aware. At the same time, they have the smallest environmental impact, since their income-related consumption and lifestyle is hardly CO2-intensive.
  • The category of the "Conscious average consumer", however, also shows that higher income and higher environmental awareness can actually result in an average or below-average total energy consumption.

Maria Krautzberger, UBA-director, commented as follows: "Higher incomes lead all too often to heavier vehicles, larger apartments and more frequent plane travels – even if people are environmentally aware in their every-day consumption. But exactly these "Big Points" affect the individual ecological balance the most. Purchasing organic products or recycling your waste does not make up for this."

Source: German Federal Environmental Agency

More information and the study