Economic activities have had adverse effects on the environment in the past. In order to maintain the delicate balance of the Earth, there is need to measure environmental impacts. The conventional approach to measuring environmental impacts, referred to as the producer principle, estimates impacts resulting from domestic production activities occurring within a country’s territory. This approach however fails to capture environmental impacts embodied in the trade of goods between countries. An alternative approach would be the use of the consumer principle which calculates the total direct and indirect environmental impacts resulting from a country’s consumption activities.
Fundamental to this research, is to encourage the adoption of a consumption perspective in accounting for environmental impacts. To achieve this, environmental input-output analysis as used to evaluate the consumption-based environmental footprints of 40 countries across our key resource areas (land, water, materials and air). These footprints were compared with the production-based impacts.
The results revealed that, in addition to having high consumption intensities, the consumption-based environmental footprints of many industrialized nations were substantially higher than their territorial impacts. More so, a significant percentage of environmental impacts were embodied in the trade of goods.
A major conclusion that could be drawn from these results is that the use of a producer principle to measure environmental impacts provides countries with an incomplete basis to achieve environmental protection. In order to approach sustainable development, there is a need to encourage a paradigm shift from the conventional production-based approach to a consumption-based perspective.