The 1997 report, The State of New Zealand’s Environment 1997 (Ministry for the Environment, 1997), reported on production and consumption patterns, but not on household consumption. As an indicator of the state of and trends in one of the pressures on our environment, household consumption is a relevant addition to the present report.
Influences on household consumption expenditure
New Zealand's real household consumption expenditure increased between 1997 and 2006 overall, on a per capita basis, and on a per household basis. This continues a longer trend of increasing consumption. Expenditure (in dollar terms) in total, per capita, and per household, increased in all seven categories measured.
Since 1997, there have been a number of changes to the influences on the way New Zealand households spend money. For example, population growth and an increase in the number of households have contributed to increases in the nominal volume of household consumption expenditure. Trends towards smaller households and larger houses may have contributed to increases in household consumption expenditure per household and per person. The increasing availability and affordability of goods and services has implications for both the volume and the kinds of goods purchased, as do economic, cultural, and social changes.
Impact of household consumption on the environment
The impacts on the environment of New Zealand households’ consumption cannot currently be accurately quantified, either overall or within the various consumption categories. However, consumption is one of the driving forces behind the pressures people place on the environment. Therefore, it can be used as an indicator of the effect we have on the environment.
As noted above, New Zealand's household consumption expenditure per person has increased since 1997. It can be inferred that this increasing consumption is driving an increase in environmental pressures.
Household consumption choices
The pressures that consumption can bring to bear on the environment can be influenced by the volume of goods and services we consume and the kinds of things we consume. For example, if we purchase goods and services that are more environmentally friendly, we can reduce the impact of our consumption on the environment.
Environmental awareness has created demand for particular kinds of products, such as reusable shopping bags, and energy-efficient cars and appliances. New technologies introduced in recent years also affect the types of products available for us to purchase (for example, hybrid cars), and the way we make those purchases (for example, internet purchasing).
It is important to note, however, that the gains made by making the consumption process more sustainable or less detrimental to the environment (for example, by households using energy-efficient appliances) can be offset if the overall level of consumption increases.
Six flagship sustainability initiatives were introduced in February 2007 to help move New Zealand towards greater environmental sustainability, including at the household level.
Household Sustainability Programme
The Household Sustainability Programme focuses on helping New Zealanders take practical action in and around the home, particularly in the areas of energy, water, waste, building and renovating, and transport.
Business Partnerships for Sustainability
The Business Partnerships for Sustainability initiative aims to promote and develop the adoption of sustainable business practices in New Zealand. In doing so, the initiative will help position New Zealand as a world-leader in smart, innovative, and business-savvy responses to environmental issues.
Towards a Carbon Neutral Public Service
Six central government departments have committed to the goal of being carbon neutral by 2012, and it will be mandatory for the remaining 28 agencies to be working towards carbon neutrality by this time. Carbon neutrality involves:
measuring all greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy, transport, and waste to landfill
developing plans to reduce emissions
offsetting unavoidable emissions through New Zealand-based projects.
Sustainable Government Procurement
A new sustainable government procurement policy was launched in August 2007 to bring sustainability to the core of government procurement policy and practice. Government departments must now consider the environmental credentials of goods and services they buy against mandated standards, guidelines, and targets.
Through this initiative, the Government will use its purchasing power to drive the market for environmentally-friendly goods and services. The new policy will ensure government departments purchase goods and services that are water and energy efficient, emit low levels of greenhouse gases, produce less waste, and are environmentally certified, wherever possible.
The Enhanced Eco-Verification programme will support sustainable procurement by enabling firms to measure and reduce their environmental and carbon footprints through verified programmes, including certified eco-labelling programmes. (For more information on eco-labelling, see box ‘Eco-labelling schemes’.)
Towards Zero Waste
The Towards Zero Waste initiative seeks to establish a network of recycling facilities in public areas, particularly in larger cities and high-profile tourist destinations, and at large events. It complements a broad range of waste minimisation and management initiatives underway at the national and local level.
In the future, as consumer preferences evolve and awareness grows, there is likely to be a continued focus on considering the environmental effects of goods and services at the time of purchase and how to reduce these effects through purchasing more sustainably.
In view of the growing national and international interest in sustainability, there is also likely to be a greater focus on decoupling environmental pressures from economic growth through smarter consumption and greater resource efficiency in the production of the goods and services bought.