Consumption and enterprises

We are asking too much of our planet: present-day economic practices and consumption patterns – especially in the industrialised countries – are pushing the Earth to its limits and beyond. The planet’s ecological limits are already being significantly exceeded in four areas – biological diversity, climate change, the nitrogen cycle and land use. In Germany, the per-capita environmental impacts and resource use associated with our consumption are so high that they could never be extended on that scale to the rest of the world.

Sustainable consumption – reconsidering our lifestyle

There are many ways of making our consumption more sustainable. For example, we can eat more organic or vegan foods, or use car-sharing schemes instead of having our own vehicle. But most people in Germany still have a resource-intensive lifestyle: living space per person has increased significantly over the decades, as has the average performance of people’s cars and the number of journeys made by air. Household electricity consumption has barely fallen and in 2011 meat consumption in Germany was twice the worldwide average. To counteract this excessive consumption, there is an urgent need for consumers to reconsider their lifestyles and adopt more sustainable habits.

Sustainable production patterns – companies must take responsibility

In the business world the picture is similar: some companies have made sustainability a guiding principle and attach great importance to environmental and social standards in their business activities and in product development. In global value chains, though, there is still a major need for action: we must reduce the high level of resource use and the associated burdens on people and the environment in the regions in which raw materials are mined and improve the poor working conditions in producing countries.

Sustainable behaviour – information, tips and advice

For many years the Oeko-Institut has been helping consumers and companies to act more sustainably by providing concrete information and suggestions for action, advising on all aspects of sustainability management and supporting product development and technological advances. Its researchers also draft and support strategies for improving the political framework for more sustainable consumption and economic activity.


Stakeholder analysis

Stakeholder analysis is a systematic method to identify and categorise persons (stakeholders) of relevance to a particular subject or issue. It may be used to identify potential partners for collaborative projects and experts who should be consulted, and to assess the scope for, and rationale behind, processes of social transformation.

Focus groups

The formation of focus groups is a method used to study the perceptions and opinions of a small number of individuals on a particular topic, such as the development of a new product or proposals relating to social change. The emphasis is on developing ideas in an interactive process. To that end, a group of eight to ten persons who represent particular standpoints discuss the topic in a moderated and structured process.

Formative scenario analysis (FSA)

FSA is a scientific technique to construct sets of assumptions about a case and its potential development and to assess their coherence. It starts by collating information about factors potentially influencing a development (e.g. consumption trends to 2050), assesses potential future scenarios and tests the consistency of the combinations. Formative scenario analysis can be conducted, for example, at future workshops with experts or stakeholders.

Life cycle costing (LCC)

Life cycle costing (LCC) calculates the actual costs arising during the life cycle of a product or service. The method is often used during product development or to support public procurement and private consumption decisions. It may be combined with an analysis of environmental and/or social factors.

Life cycle assessment (LCA)

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a quantitative method used for the systematic analysis and environmental evaluation of products, technologies and services. It quantifies their potentially relevant environmental impacts throughout their life cycle. The method supports more sustainable product development but can also provide guidance on public procurement and private consumption decisions. It often includes an analysis of economic and social factors.

Sustainable product development with life cycle assessments

LCA critical review

The Oeko-Institut also acts as an appraiser in the systematic review of life cycle assessments. During or after an LCA, the researchers check whether it has been carried out correctly in terms of methodology, data collection and reporting. The review’s methodology must comply with specific standards and guidelines.

Product Carbon Footprint (PCF)

The Product Carbon Footprint measures greenhouse gas emissions throughout the life cycle of a product in a specific application and in relation to a defined usage unit. The standards and guidelines applicable to the PCF are the GHG Protocol Product Standard, ISO/TS 14067 and the Product Carbon Footprint Memorandum.

Further information: Product Carbon Footprint Memorandum

Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)

The Product Environmental Footprint derives from a European Commission initiative and is based on life cycle assessment (LCA). Its purpose is to facilitate direct comparison of the ecological carrying capacity appropriated by products which have an identical function. A key element is the definition of Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFCRs), which provide further specifications for inventory analysis, interpretation and, to some extent, communication of the environmental impacts at the level of a specific product category. The Oeko-Institut advises businesses and public authorities on the design and application of a PEF, supports the development of PEFCRs in specific sectors and advises policy-makers on the future use of the PEF in various product-related policy instruments, such as ecodesign or ecolabelling criteria.

PROSA (Product Sustainability Assessment)

PROSA (Product Sustainability Assessment) is a method for the strategic analysis and evaluation of product portfolios, products and services. PROSA assesses the environmental, economic and social aspects, spanning the entire life cycle and value chain. The goal is to identify system innovations and options for action towards sustainable development.

Further information on the PROSA method

Qualitative interviews

Qualitative interviews are a method used for data collection on individuals’ attitudes, feelings, knowledge and self-reported actions. The focus is on the individual viewpoint and may address sensitive topics. The approach most suited to exploring environmental issues is the issue-oriented structured interview. However, other forms also exist, such as the narrative interview. An expert interview focuses on eliciting information of a practical and specialist nature.

Quantitative questionnaires and surveys

Surveys, generally conducted online or by telephone, are a quantitative method used to determine how specific attitudes are distributed numerically within a group and how they correlate with other variables (e.g. socio-demographic characteristics, attitudes on other issues, knowledge). They may be, but are not necessarily, conducted as a representative survey of the population as a whole or a specific target group.

Social life cycle assessment (s-LCA)

A social life cycle assessment (s-LCA) looks at social aspects and the positive and negative impacts of products throughout their life cycle. The s-LCA method is aligned to life cycle assessment (LCA) standards and supplements LCA and life cycle costing (LCC) as tools for evaluating sustainability. It utilises both generic and localised data, and quantitative, semi-quantitative and qualitative information to assess social indicators. The Oeko-Institut was a key contributor to the development of the UNEP/SETAC Guidelines and applies s-LCA in product/process evaluation projects.

Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment

Scenario techniques

Scenarios are used to analyse possible future developments and how they interrelate. They describe alternative future situations and pathways leading to them. Scenarios model the hypothetical outcomes of events in order to identify causal processes and factors of relevance to decision-making.