A sustainable level of material footprint — Benchmark for designing one-planet lifestyles

Michael Lettenmeier (2018)

This thesis justifies and develops a sustainable level of Lifestyle Material Footprint (LMF) as a benchmark for designing sustainable lifestyles. It shows the application of the benchmark in a Household-level Sustainability Transition method and presents a framework for inspiring design solutions towards a Design for One Planet (Df1P).

The thesis shows how the Material Input per unit of Service (MIPS) concept has developed from product orientation to the application to household consumption and from technically-focused measurement into an integral part of methods for designing one-planet lifestyles and supporting solutions. This provides both an advanced application of the concept and its opening to new purposes and users.

The core of the thesis is the suggestion of a sustainable material footprint benchmark of 8 tonnes per person per year as a resource cap target for household consumption in Finland, an 80% (factor 5) reduction from present average. The 8 tonnes benchmark opens the possibility for a target-oriented, planned reduction of LMFs by target-setting, experimenting and up-scaling of sustainable solutions. The method enabled the participating households to perform footprint reductions of 26–54% during the one-month experiment phase. Notable footprint reductions are thus possible even in the short term, which is an important message to other households and other actors in society. Calculating households’ LMFs makes visible the structures underlying household consumption and the need for change not only in household consumption but also in the supply of products, services and infrastructure, and thus systemic changes initiated by others than households.

The orientation framework of Df1P suggests measures that could be promoted by means of design, and structures them in a matrix incorporating priority action areas in the fields of housing, nutrition and mobility, and the domains of product design, service design, infrastructure planning and communication design. Mainstreaming sustainable lifestyles will potentially require a new design culture, but at least significant efforts in product design, service design and infrastructure planning as well as in making sustainable solutions attractive to consumers and disrupting existing routines. The more technology and infrastructure can be integrated into this change, the more space will be left for individual diversity in achieving sustainable household consumption. The orientation framework could provide a first step towards Df1P practice by inspiring designers to integrate the recognition of the planetary boundaries into their work.

The book in Aalto University thesis repository (Aaltodoc): https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/31300.