Understanding Voluntary Simplicity as a Form of Sustainable Consumption

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  • 0:07 Consumption
  • 2:13 Sustainable Consumption
  • 3:30 Voluntary Simplicity
  • 5:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Voluntary simplicity is a form of sustainable consumption that involves a conscious decision to use fewer natural resources. Learn how following a voluntary simplicity lifestyle can meet your needs and desires and reduce damage to the environment.


People living in the United States or other developed countries love to buy and consume. Some would say that it's even part of our lifestyle, or what makes us who we are. For example, let's take a look at Timmy, who is a typical American, as he starts his day.

Timmy wakes up at 6 am and takes a nice, hot shower in his temperature-controlled suburban home. After going through his normal morning routine, he hops into his SUV and heads toward the office, which is a 30-minute commute in heavy traffic. Along the way, Timmy pulls into a fast food restaurant for a conveniently packaged breakfast biscuit and a cup of coffee to go. At the office, Timmy boots up his computer and prints out a 30-page report to get ready for his meeting with the boss.

Sounds pretty typical, doesn't it? This same scene or one very similar is played out all across America every day. And most of us would not think that Timmy is leading a high-consumption or energy-intensive lifestyle. But if we really evaluate Timmy's habits, we see that by the early morning, Timmy has already consumed a lot of products and services. He used electricity to take a hot shower, heat his home and boot up his computer. He burned fossil fuels in his SUV, threw away his biscuit wrapper and coffee cup and used paper to print his report.

According to the Global Footprint Network, as of 2008, the human population used the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide enough resources to meet our daily habits and deal with the wastes we produce. In other words, the human population is using the earth's resources at a rate 50% faster than what the earth can sustain. At this rate, our planet's natural resources cannot be sustained and may not be available for future generations. In this lesson, you will learn how voluntarily simplifying your lifestyle can lead to sustainable consumption patterns.

Sustainable Consumption

Sustainable consumption is defined as the use of products and services in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment, so that human needs can be met not only in the present but also for future generations. With sustainable consumption, needs and desires are still met but at a lower environmental cost because resources are used wisely and the production of wastes and pollutants are reduced.

There are many ways that industries and municipalities can practice sustainable consumption. For example, industries, such as those in the IT or appliance-manufacturing sector, can design appliances that have a longer service life, so consumers feel comfortable using the products for a longer time.

Municipalities can utilize alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind power, which are renewable sources that do not emit harmful pollutants. Local governments can also promote sustainable consumption practices by making infrastructure changes that promote less driving, such as the creation of safe bike paths. Of course, sustainable consumption is not only a practice for government organizations and industries. It is also something that individuals can adopt as a voluntary practice.

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