Most currently used tools and indicators do not adequately reflect the full environmental costs of consumption. Consumption-based accounting is a way of quantifying an economy’s environmental impacts that takes into account “embedded” commodities and resources – not only those that were directly imported, but also those that went into the production of imported finished goods and services; for example, mineral ores, or animal feeds, irrigation water, and land. SEI has developed a range of consumption-based accounting tools and methods, from online “footprint” measurement tools for individual consumers, to tools for business, up to regional-level data models. It has also carried out consumption-based accounting for cities, industrial sectors and governments.

SEi research also looks at the production end of trade, assessing the social and environmental implications of changes in production systems, and mapping the routes commodities take from the point of production, and works in partnership with businesses to help them make their supply chains and practices more sustainable.

This SEI research synthesis brief is part of a series that synthesizes the key research efforts of SEI in the period 2010-2014. It is based on an assessment of SEI’s work on the topic of sustainable consumption, production and trade under the Rethinking Development research theme, and presents key insights from this work, setting out what has been learned, and it also highlights major activities and charts paths for future research.

Download the research synthesis brief (PDF: 1.7MB)