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Sustainability 2012, 4(7), 1426-1447; doi:10.3390/su4071426

Material Footprint of Low-Income Households in Finland—Consequences for the Sustainability Debate

1
D-mat ltd., Purokatu 34, 15200 Lahti, Finland
2
Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Döppersberg 19, 42103 Wuppertal, Germany
3
Kela, Research Department, P.O. Box 79, 00601 Helsinki, Finland
4
Department of Environmental Sciences, P.O. Box 65, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
5
National Consumer Research Centre, P.O. Box 5, 00531 Helsinki, Finland
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 2 April 2012 / Revised: 18 June 2012 / Accepted: 19 June 2012 / Published: 29 June 2012
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Abstract

The article assesses the material footprints of households living on a minimum amount of social benefits in Finland and discusses the consequences in terms of ecological and social sustainability. The data were collected using interviews and a questionnaire on the consumption patterns of 18 single households. The results are compared to a study on households with varying income levels, to average consumption patterns and to decent minimum reference budgets. The low-income households have lower material footprints than average and most of the material footprints are below the socially sustainable level of consumption, which is based on decent minimum reference budgets. However, the amount of resources used by most of the households studied here is still at least double that required for ecological sustainability. The simultaneous existence of both deprivation and overconsumption requires measures from both politicians and companies to make consumption sustainable. For example, both adequate housing and economic mobility need to be addressed. Measures to improve the social sustainability of low-income households should target reducing the material footprints of more affluent households. Furthermore, the concept of what constitutes a decent life should be understood more universally than on the basis of standards of material consumption.
Keywords: consumption; household; social sustainability; income; sufficiency; ecological sustainability; natural resources; MIPS; material footprint; ecological backpack consumption; household; social sustainability; income; sufficiency; ecological sustainability; natural resources; MIPS; material footprint; ecological backpack
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Lettenmeier, M.; Hirvilammi, T.; Laakso, S.; Lähteenoja, S.; Aalto, K. Material Footprint of Low-Income Households in Finland—Consequences for the Sustainability Debate. Sustainability 2012, 4, 1426-1447.

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