The Importance of Imports for Household Environmental Impacts

Authors

  • Glen P. Peters,

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    • Postdoctoral researcher in the Industrial Ecology Programme of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway.

  • Edgar G. Hertwich

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    • Postdoctoral researcher in the Industrial Ecology Programme of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway.


  • Director of the Industrial Ecology Programme and a professor in the Department of Energy and Process Engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Industrial Ecology Programme, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Realfagbygget E1, NO-7491 Trondheim, Norway <glen.peters@ntnu.no>, <http:www.indecol.ntnu.no>

Summary

A promising way to reduce environmental impacts of consumer expenditure is through the encouragement of more sustainable consumption patterns. Consumers cause environmental impacts both directly, such as by fuel use in personal cars, and indirectly, by paying for the production of consumables. With increased international trade, the indirect environmental impacts are difficult to determine because a portion of the emissions occurs in different geographical regions. Many previous studies have unrealistically assumed that imports are produced using domestic production technology. For countries with diverging technology and energy mixes the likely errors are significant. This study applies a methodology that explicitly includes technology differences to the case of Norwegian households. It is found that a significant portion of pollution is embodied in Norwegian household imports. Further, a disproportionately large amount of pollution is embodied in imports from developing countries. Overall, as in previous studies, we find that mobility and food are most important in terms of household environmental impacts. By analyzing the imports in more detail we find that for some sectors the majority of emissions occur in foreign regions; in particular, this is true for food, business services, clothing, chemicals, furniture, cars, agriculture, textiles, and most manufactured products.

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