Material Footprint of Low-Income Households in Finland-Consequences for the Sustainability Debate

Michael Lettenmeier, Tuuli Hirvilammi, Senja Laakso, Satu Lahteenoja, Kristiina Aalto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The article assesses the material footprints of households living on a minimum amount of social benefits in Finland and discusses the consequences in terms of ecological and social sustainability. The data were collected using interviews and a questionnaire on the consumption patterns of 18 single households. The results are compared to a study on households with varying income levels, to average consumption patterns and to decent minimum reference budgets. The low-income households have lower material footprints than average and most of the material footprints are below the socially sustainable level of consumption, which is based on decent minimum reference budgets. However, the amount of resources used by most of the households studied here is still at least double that required for ecological sustainability. The simultaneous existence of both deprivation and overconsumption requires measures from both politicians and companies to make consumption sustainable. For example, both adequate housing and economic mobility need to be addressed. Measures to improve the social sustainability of low-income households should target reducing the material footprints of more affluent households. Furthermore, the concept of what constitutes a decent life should be understood more universally than on the basis of standards of material consumption.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1426-1447
Number of pages22
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • consumption
  • household
  • social sustainability
  • income
  • sufficiency
  • ecological sustainability
  • natural resources
  • MIPS
  • material footprint
  • ecological backpack
  • Environmental sciences


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