Consumer choices affect sustainability of societal systems, and state governments increasingly are interested in environmental impacts of consumption. This article describes a Consumer Environmental Index (CEI) to track the impacts of product purchase, use, and disposal and applies this initial CEI to Washington State in the United States. CEI has modules for product and service use, upstream resource extraction and manufacturing, and downstream disposal. CEI uses hybrid life cycle assessment (LCA) methods, combined with purchasing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Expenditure Survey.
For Washington State, when human health and ecosystem toxicity impact was assessed with the TRACI/CalTOX methods, weighted aggregate and per consumer impacts in all categories increased during the 6 years from 2000 to 2005. For impacts per real dollar spent, only the CEI's climate change component declined, falling nearly 7% between 2000 and 2005.
Purchasing details in the BLS expenditure surveys enable the CEI to track environmental impact details on 700 individual categories of products and services. For example, sugar, motor oil, and wood heat appear to have serious environmental impacts, whereas recycling of paper, cardboard, and food and beverage container discards can be as effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions as cutting vehicle fuel usage nearly in half. Such results may serve to increase understanding of environmentally effective actions to reduce climate, human health, and ecosystem impacts of consumption.