About the Sustainable Consumption and Production program

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability prioritizes efforts to reduce global carbon emissions from the local consumption of goods and services. Our work focuses on partnering with the community to help all Portland residents and local businesses thrive within the resource limits of the planet.
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What is sustainable consumption?

Put simply, it’s the idea that what we buy – whether it’s food, furniture or concrete for the foundation of a home – has a “carbon impact.” Unlike the carbon pollution that’s emitted from driving a car or cutting a lawn with a gas-powered mower, carbon from what we consume is “embodied” in the product. Portland’s consumption-based emissions inventory estimates these emissions based on consumer spending and also includes emissions from use of products and end-of-life disposal – to show the full lifecyle.

For example, to produce a washing machine, fossil fuels and metals are extracted and processed into plastics and sheet metal, electrical components and computer chips. These are shipped and assembled into a product, which is then distributed to sellers and purchased by consumers. This production and distribution process requires energy, which produces carbon emissions. And once the washing machine is plugged in and turned on, it will draw energy and, if not using renewable electricity, create carbon emissions for the rest of its usable life.

Furthermore, our research shows that because so much of what Portlanders consume is produced in other countries (often less developed ones), the carbon impact of our purchases globally is twice what the local impact is.

In addition, consumption leads to landfilled waste and other pollution (“downstream” impacts). The amount of waste, in tons, hauled to landfills in the Portland metro area has been increasing with population growth. Which means we need to refocus waste reduction efforts further “upstream” from the point of disposal through reducing and reusing more of what we consume.

Consumption, in this context, tracks with spending money. And as spending increases so do emissions. We can expect spending to increase with the recovery from the COVID-19 recession. Without significant policy interventions, changes in businesses practices, and shifts in consumer behavior, Portland will see this trend continue.

Evolution of Portland’s climate policies

Portland published the world’s first city-scale Consumption-based Emissions Inventory (CBEI) in the 2015 Climate Action Plan

Even with the success of reducing local emissions 15% below 1990 levels in Portland, consumption-based emissions continued to climb, increasing 9% from 2011 to 2015. This indicates that traditional climate policies and planning have failed to reduce emissions from consumption. And that some of the sector-based reductions are likely due to outsourcing local production and the greater import of goods, food and materials.

In Portland’s 2015 Climate Action Plan, the City committed to developing a Sustainable Consumption and Production Report to reduce consumption-based emissions. Over a two-year period, City staff worked with partners to develop the key strategies and a framework to begin thinking and acting on this transformation. The work highlighted here is only the beginning of what will evolve into a more robust, comprehensive, and community-driven approach to reduce emissions caused by what and how much we consume.

Sustainable Consumption and Production Report (SC&PR)

The SC&PR does a few things to help Portland reduce consumption-based emissions:

  1. It outlines key strategies that can reduce carbon emissions and help meet other goals, such as advancing equity, improving community resilience and increasing well-being. These strategies are informed by data and based on Portland’s consumption-based emissions inventory (CBEI). They are intended to be long term, transformational, and include actions to complete over the next two fiscal years. This is just a starting point; the goal is to expand through collaboration with the community and local businesses.
  2. The strategy outlines a path forward for local governance. It seeks to acknowledge government’s role and shift how we measure success from traditional models of economic growth to a more just and equitable future. Sustainable consumption helps us reduce the environmental impacts of consumption and improve overall community well-being, while acknowledging and dismantling historic injustice and oppression.
  3. The SC&PR uses a climate, equity and justice lens, as articulated in the Fiscal Year 2020–2021 budget, the COVID-19 Response Values Framework and 2020 Climate Emergency Declaration. Achieving sustainable levels of local consumption and production of goods, food and materials is critical to abating the climate crisis. However, reducing consumption-based emissions alone will not be enough. There are many other environmental and social impacts of consumption that extend beyond climate change, including product toxicity, air and water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and unfair and dangerous working conditions in less developed countries.

View the report documents:

The SC&PR is informed by Kate Raworth’s framework in her book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist (2017). It outlines a powerful new vision for achieving sustainable consumption, which she calls the “the safe and just space for humanity.”

This framework helps the SC&PS account for the broader environmental and social impacts of consumption and climate change so we can reshape our economy in more just, equitable, and sustainable ways.

circle diagram with center containing list of basic human needs and rights; middle ring says "safe and just space for humanity" and outer ring lists negative environmental impacts of overconsumption
Doughnut Economics model.

The need for more climate action

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, confronting and abating the climate crisis will require an unprecedented transformation of every sector of the global economy by 2030. This presents an opportunity for businesses and producers to meet this challenge through innovation and fundamental changes to supply and production models.

Renewable energy for production is important, but insufficient. More is needed to achieve sustainable production, such as circular and regenerative practices, extended producer responsibility, localized and resourceful material supply chains, abandoning planned obsolescence with durable and longer lasting products, and less advertising and lifestyle fashion trends that push consumers to buy more than they need.

Read more about the history and key documents of climate planning and action in Portland.


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