Does the choice of lifestyle indicators matter?

Does the choice of lifestyle indicators matter? – A case-based comparison of the application of lifestyle material and carbon footprints

by: Michael Hans Lettenmeier (presenting author)1,2,3, Viivi Helena Toivio1

1: D-mat ltd., Finland; 2: Aalto University, Finland; 3: Wuppertal Institute, Germany


The paper analyses the application of the footprint indicators, the lifestyle material footprint and the lifestyle carbon footprint from an indicators’ use(fulness) perspective. Both material and carbon footprints were traditionally developed for assessing and comparing the impacts of products. Increasingly, they have also been used for assessing households’ impact on an aggregated level, as well as for going further and setting footprint targets for sustainable, “one-planet” lifestyles and for analysing the sustainability of private households, and their sustainability potentials towards the one-planet targets.

The paper compares the results for both indicators from two Finnish pilot projects called “low-carbon April” and “Sustainable Lifestyles Accelerator”. The projects had a total of 13 participating households formed by 45 persons. Both projects utilized a household-level transition methodology towards sustainable footprints including the following five stages: monitoring consumption, footprint calculation, choice of measures, building a roadmap towards 2030, and a month of experimenting.

The paper illustrates and compares the lifestyle footprints resulted, the footprint reductions planned, and the measures taken and experimented in the different consumption domains, according to their quantification on the basis of the two different footprint approaches. For example, traditional petrol-based cars have a similar relevance in the results of both footprints while electric cars decrease the carbon but increase the material footprint.

The paper discusses how the choice of indicator influences the footprint results and the measures chosen into the roadmaps and the experiments. In addition, the potential for increasing sustainability by ways of lifestyle changes is evaluated and compared between the two footprint indicators.