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Impact on the Planet

In a linear economy, each product requires the collection of new resources and the creation of waste. When our appetite for goods outpaces the earth’s ability to produce and restore, we disrupt the earth's ability to find equilibrium. Consider the following as products of unconscious consumption…

Resource depletion

Our annual natural resource consumption outpaces the earth's annual resource a lot. Between 2000 and 2017, the global material footprint rose from 54 to 92 billion metric tons. To sustain these levels, high-income countries often rely on resources from low-income countries. See which resources make up the largest part of your footprint.

Water shortage

The average U.S. consumer uses 1,800 gallons of water a day, while many struggle locally and abroad with drought and thirst. Most of what we consume is "hidden water," or water we never actually see that's used for agriculture and product production. See where the most of your water usage comes from.

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Credit: Flore de Preneuf / World Bank Photo Collection

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Credit: David Gilbert / RAN


About five football fields of tropical rain forest are cleared a minute to support exports that fulfill demand in high-consumption countries. Forests are cut and cleared, mostly for cow grazing and production of soy feed, palm oil products, and packaging material. Learn more about the importance of forests.


The average U.S. consumer creates 8 times more CO2 emissions than recommended to prevent temperature rise. Electricity usage, food waste, diet choices, and transportation methods have a large impact on personal emission footprints. Get an idea of your carbon footprint.


Credit: Andreas Habich / Climate Visuals Countdown

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Credit: Abir Abdullah / Climate Visuals Countdown

Material waste

The average U.S. consumer produces 1,788 pounds of post-consumer waste a year. The largest waste categories are paper and paperboard, food waste, and plastics. Waste creates air and water pollution and takes up space, and much of it will not biodegrade. See more about which materials we waste most.


Synthetic pesticides on our produce, PFAS on our kitchenware, and BPAs in our plastic products not only harm the consumer and people along the product lifecycle, they also seep into our water sources, our soil, and our air. Read about toxins in common consumer products.


Credit: Irina Oleinik / World Bank Photo Collection

It's all connected

Of course, not all consumers have the same impact. A person’s impact generally increases with wealth, and a country’s impact generally increases with its gross domestic product (GDP). For example, the average material footprint per capita in high-income countries is 12 times the material footprint in low-income countries.


This means some people produce more waste and emissions, while others produce less but feel the impacts of resource depletion even more. Our environmental practices and issues are directly related to human issues. Learn more about the unconscious consumer impact on other people.

Moving toward products that do less harm

How can we consume in ways that do not perpetuate these issues? By connecting with the impact our consumer choices around food, transportation, manufactured goods, electronics, and clothing can have on the environment, we can identify where to make changes that do more good.

Thankfully, there are a lot of organizations working on more environmentally friendly product alternatives and production practices. See how you can join them in the movement toward conscious consumerism.


Sources and inspirations

United Nations. (n.d.). - SDG indicators. United Nations.

How many planets does it take to sustain your lifestyle? Ecological Footprint Calculator. (n.d.). 

What is a water footprint? Water Footprint Calculator (n.d.)

What is your carbon footprint? The Nature Conservancy. (n.d.). 

Facts and figures about material, waste and recycling. United States Environmental Protection Agency (n.d.)

Household & Consumer Products. EWG. (2022, January 26) 

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