• cross-national comparisons;
  • energy;
  • Energy Analysis Program (EAP);
  • environmental load;
  • industrial ecology;
  • materials flow analysis (MFA)


Bringing about more sustainable consumption patterns is an important challenge for society and science. In this article the concept of household metabolism is applied to analyzing consumption patterns and to identifying possibilities for the development of sustainable household consumption patterns. Household metabolism is determined in terms of total energy requirements, including both direct and indirect energy requirements, using a hybrid method. This method enables us to evaluate various determinants of the environmental load of consumption consistently at several levels—the national level, the local level, and the household level.

The average annual energy requirement of households varies considerably between the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Sweden, as well as within these countries. The average expenditure level per household explains a large part of the observed variations. Differences between these countries are also related to the efficiency of the production sectors and to the energy supply system. The consumption categories of food, transport, and recreation show the largest contributions to the environmental load. A comparison of consumer groups with different household characteristics shows remarkable differences in the division of spending over the consumption categories.

Thus, analyses of different types of households are important for providing a basis for options to induce decreases of the environmental load of household consumption. At the city level, options for change are provided by an analysis of the city infrastructure, which determines a large part of the direct energy use by households (for transport and heating). At the national level, energy efficiency in production and in electricity generation is an important trigger for decreasing household energy requirements.