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Climate gap report: consumer goods

Rob Harrison and Ruth Strange discuss the findings around consumer goods from Closing the Climate Gap 2023: An annual report on progress towards sustainable consumer lifestyles in the UK.

Actions taken this decade will be crucial in mitigating the worst impacts of climate breakdown. Yet, according to our Climate Gap research, we are not cutting emissions fast enough across any of our key lifestyle areas - including consumer goods such as clothing, furniture and electrical items.

Consumer goods and climate change

The reductions in the emissions from consumer goods are the latest government figures, but are those occurring in the first year of the Covid pandemic. It shows that change is possible, but more recent figures, when they become available, are likely to be higher.

A key finding of the report was that it is not possible to manage an economy rationally towards urgent climate goals without meaningful and timely performance data. Pleasingly, the CCC appears to have adopted this recommendation to government in its latest report.

Of the 40 companies we check each year for full Scope 3 emissions reporting, which includes the production and processing of materials going into products and the use of products after sale, the proportion reporting rose from 60% to 70%. However, of those that had year-on-year Scope 3 figures to compare, more were going up than down. Some may have got less carbon intensive, but if growth outstrips efficiency, we aren’t getting anywhere.

Graph showing percentage of items bought secondhand or repaired. 2021= 28%, 2022 = 36%, 2023 = 33%, 2030 target = 39%

Not moving fast enough

Our consumer goods account for 10% of our total consumer emissions.

The 2023 report found that there is still a 13% reduction in CO2e emissions needed if we are to meet the CCC's 2030 targets.

The graph for purchase of secondhand items or repairing shows a fluctuating trend, and activity in the other categories in this area do not appear to be moving fast enough to reach the targets.

We call on consumers to not only reduce their own emissions in these areas, but to also consider getting engaged with political campaigns trying to persuade the government and companies to take some of the actions identified too.

Actions for government, companies and consumers

The report card below summarises key actions consumers, governments and businesses need to take in order to help meet the CCC's 2030 targets.

Consumer goods report card 2023
  Carbon footprints of clothing, furniture and electrical goods Supply chain carbon reporting Consumer repair and re-use
Actions for government Collaborate on carbon pricing internationally; invest in more timely data collection. Require supply chain (scope 3) carbon reporting annually. Extend repairability obligations.
Actions for companies Decarbonise supply chains;
design lower impact product lines.
Report supply chain emissions annually; reduce in line with Paris goals. Design for repairability; price spare parts fairly.
Actions for consumers Try to reduce overall levels of consumption where possible. Choose brands reporting on carbon in their supply chains. Choose secondhand products and repair.

Access the 2023 Climate Gap report

A summary and PDF of the 2023 report and the other impact areas is available on our campaign page.

The reports include the evidence behind all the information.

At a glance graphs

The 2023 report includes 12 graphs, like the repairing / secondhand graph above, across the four impact areas of food, heating, transport and consumer goods. These graphs are quick ways to see where progress is taking place, and where the target is going to be very difficult to achieve.

Your feedback

After you have read this report, we’d really appreciate it if you could complete a short survey to help us understand the impact it is having, and improve this in future years.

Handy advice on climate actions you can take

We are creating series of articles highlighting actions you can take for the climate on the areas of food, heating, transport and consumer goods - see the links below for consumer goods related advice:

Join in

Combined efforts can have greater impact than people on their own. Key consumer goods campaigns to support include:

Plus our online directory of Libraries of Things is very popular, with well over 50 places listed across the UK, enabling you to borrow rather than buy many consumer goods.

We would like to express gratitude to Ecology Building Society for its sponsorship of the 2023 Climate Gap Report.

Ecology Building Society logo

What is the Climate Gap report?

Ethical Consumer's first Climate Gap report was published in October 2021, to track progress towards sustainable consumer lifestyles in the UK. The report helps identify how consumers, governments and companies can work together to help fix the climate crisis.

The report's aim is to track the gap between our current combined consumption emissions and where they need to be by 2030. A second key aim of the project is to produce a simplified list of key actions for consumers, companies and governments.

The report has four sections on the areas where our lifestyle climate impacts are the biggest: food, housing, transport and consumer goods, covering 75% of combined total consumer emissions. It compares where consumer behaviour is in these areas against 2030 targets from reports issued by the UK Government's own Climate Change Committee (CCC). Read more about whether the CCC's targets themselves are robust enough, in the Key Findings on our campaign page.

We update the report annually, to provide targets for consumers, companies and government each year.