The Sixth Assessment Report released by the IPCC in March 2022 stated that changing consumption patterns and lifestyles will be crucial for achieving the reductions needed to reverse the emissions curve. According to the report, the greatest potential to achieve rapid emission reductions through behavioural changes is through the wealthiest countries (IPCC 2022) such as Sweden, where overconsumption is greatest.

Official figures suggest that Sweden’s consumption-based emissions (footprints) currently average 9 metric tons (t) per person, far from 1 t that is often referred to as the target level for 2050 in average global per-capita emissions. In close collaboration with Kalmar and Umeå Municipalities and the company InsightOne , SEI  developed and launched the Consumption Compass in April 2022 with funding from the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (Formas). An Excel-based tool, it is the first of its kind, with associated interactive maps that downscale consumption-based emissions from national to local and postcode levels and offer a unique understanding of variations in household footprints at the postcode level that calculates 110 different consumption categories, including transport, food and housing.

Katarina Axelsson, one of the lead researchers behind the Consumption Compass, points out that Swedish municipalities play a vital role in reducing consumption-based household emissions. She argues that by mapping household emissions on a postcode level, municipalities are better equipped to provide residents with targeted policies and measures, as well as infrastructure and other resources that facilitate and support reduced emissions.

While many Swedish municipalities are already working actively to reduce the climate impacts of consumption, they often lack tools to analyze local consumption patterns in detail and follow up with the work, which the Consumption Compass can help to change. The data it provides make the climate impact from household consumption at municipal, county and national levels visible and transparent and offers an understanding of which consumption categories constitute so-called “hotspots” that need prioritizations to achieve emission reductions. Axelsson believes that the municipalities can and need to facilitate the green transition for residents by encouraging and supporting more environmentally friendly choices.

“Example of how municipalities can help its residents in reducing emissions include urban planning to reduce the need for cars, offering leisure activities that are not associated with large emissions and working with waste minimization and recycling,” she said.

While the footprint variations between different municipalities are relatively small, there are substantial variations between different areas within the municipalities. An analysis of Swedish consumption-based emissions reveals vast differences in climate impact from consumption between households, from about 3.5 t (CO2e) per person and year in more resource-poor areas to almost 18 t (CO2e) per person in the more resourceful in total (excluding the impact from public sector and investments). Not surprisingly, postcode areas with high incomes have a slightly higher than average climate footprint from consumption than municipalities in urban areas. In urban and high-income areas, emissions from flying are higher, while in rural areas, emissions from road travel are slightly higher

Axelsson stressed that the purpose of the Consumption Compass is not to shame certain municipalities or postcode areas, but to gain important information about where change is most needed and spark a discussion about consumption-based emissions in Sweden. She believes that it is virtually impossible for Sweden to achieve climate-neutrality by 2045 without making radical lifestyle changes to reduce emissions.

“Our lifestyles and consumption patterns are largely shaped by the norms surrounding the social groups we identify with,” said Axelsson. “To achieve the green transition, these norms need to change and we need to create a common understanding of the impact our consumption has on climate change and pollution. It is a transition we must undergo together at all levels of society.”

The tool has already attracted international attention and while several municipalities now use the Consumption Compass to map household emissions, SEI’s work to improve its features and functionality continues. There are plans for a web-based tool to improve user-friendliness, develop time series and scenario functions and create a feature that analyzes the results based on different socioeconomic variables.

For updates and more detailed information about the Consumption Compass, visit the website here (in Swedish). An English version of the tool will also be available in the future.