Responsible consumption, the daily path to our planet’s future

Responsible consumption is a growing concern in Barcelona, which is why many projects are actively promoting sustainable practices.

18/03/2024 - 12:51 h - Environment and sustainability Ajuntament de Barcelona

World Consumer Rights and Responsible Consumption Day was celebrated on 15 March, putting the spotlight on a purchasing model that takes into account ethical, social and environmental impacts. Responsible consumption is a growing concern in Barcelona, which is why many projects are actively promoting sustainable practices.

According to the Global Compact and the Global Footprint Network, we are living as if we had 1.75 planets, and with the world’s population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, we would need almost 3 planets to provide enough natural resources to sustain our current way of life.

Our material footprint, defined as the total amount of raw materials extracted for final consumption, has increased by 113% since 1990. Added to this are consumer societies, a socioeconomic concept used to describe states that buy goods and services on a massive scale, creating a culture of compulsive buying and throwing away. This affects natural resources, health, people, communities and the environment,

prompting various initiatives to try to curb this global challenge. In 2015, for example, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an action plan for people and the planet that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of these, SDG 12, “Responsible production and consumption”, aims to reshape the current production and consumption model to achieve efficient natural resource management by implementing processes that reduce food loss and waste and promote a more environmentally friendly use of chemical products.

In 1983, the UN also established 15 March as World Consumer Rights Day, with the aim of protecting consumers by asserting, recognising and legitimising their rights internationally. Two years later, in 1985, the United Nations Council declared that citizens have the right to choose, to be informed so that they can make the best choice of goods and services, to purchase competitive products and services, to satisfy their basic needs and to ensure that goods do not harm their health or the environment.

Responsible consumption, a way of life for the future

Brenda Chávez, a journalist and researcher specialising in sustainability, consumption and culture, writes for publications such as The Guardian, El País, El Salto, Muy Interesante and Rockdelux, and hosts the sustainable consumption section of the radio programme Carne Cruda (, entitled Consuma Crudeza. She explained that responsible consumption, also known as conscious, sustainable, critical or transformative consumption, takes into account not only the variables of quality and price, but also the social and environmental impact of the production and provision of goods and services. “In other words, it is about trying to ensure that our consumption has less of an impact on the planet’s resources and on the people involved in their production, as well as on our health,” she said. “For example, there are clothes, cosmetics and industrial products with a number of substances that are potentially harmful to human health and the environment.”

The concept of responsible consumption is not new, explained Chávez, who also specialises in the social and solidarity economy (SSE). “Previous generations consumed more responsibly than we do; in fact, in the last four decades we have consumed four times more than we did 40 years ago, when there were fewer plastics and there was no throwaway culture like we have today, with overconsumption societies, fast fashion, globalised production chains, and so on.”

Fortunately, today we are seeing the promotion of other models that are more eco- and human-friendly, such as short-circuit marketing and consumption that is more local and closer to home. We also find people interested in a different, more meaningful way of consuming, a society that is more aware of the consequences of what it consumes. “What we should be trying to do is to create awareness in hyper-developed societies, to produce and buy more sustainably, not only ordinary people, but also companies, governments and administrations,” said Chávez, who also contributes to the podcast and Twitch programme Mecambio,on SSE initiatives, 

Juan del Río, co-founder of Red de Transición, a facilitator and consultant in the fields of social transition, community processes and local sustainability projects, agrees. “It’s imperative that we move towards different economic models, because we’re exceeding the planet’s limits. There are also major social and global problems such as the climate emergency, inequalities and armed conflicts that are having a major impact on the world,” said del Río, who is also the author of Guía del movimiento de transición [Guide to the Transition Movement] and director of Alter Natives, Building possible futures, a documentary on transition and eco-social regeneration initiatives, a collective project to showcase transformative experiences and inspire other possible futures.

“We need to start with economic models that reduce resource consumption and promote a new distribution of wealth,” he continued. “Responsible consumption is a tool based more on quality, proximity, and local and green consumption, thus reducing toxic consumption. We need to really understand what is behind the products and use this to raise awareness among consumers. I don’t think it’s enough, but it’s an important tool.”

When it comes to responsible consumption practices or projects in Barcelona, many promote a thriving and dynamic local economy that also creates jobs in the city: energy, food, local eco-production, mobility, communication, fair trade and housing are just a few examples.  

Barcelona’s Responsible Consumption Space

The Responsible Consumption Space (ECR)  in Barcelona is a municipal facility that specialises in promoting responsible consumption. Its mission is to spread a culture of more conscious consumption that has a positive impact on people and the environment.

Maria Solé, who works in the Urban Food Policy and Responsible Consumption division of Barcelona City Council, explained that responsible consumption boils down to three actions: consuming less, consuming without buying, and buying wisely. In other words, avoiding unnecessary consumption; sharing, reusing, repairing and exchanging materials; and when buying, choosing goods and services that are healthy and socially responsible. The facility focuses mainly on the third pillar, buying wisely, by promoting activities, setting up information points at events, and providing training, advice and other services to integrate responsible consumption into people’s lives and the services offered by other institutions.

The ECR works with establishments that schedule activities and events, with citizen services and with consumers themselves. It also collaborates with institutions and organisations that may be interested in promoting responsible consumption. It offers advice and training to other facilities, hosts activities and has information points at relevant events in the city. It also provides space within its own facilities for organisations that need a place to carry out activities linked to the promotion of responsible consumption. All this is in addition to its efforts to promote the principles of responsible consumption.

The ECR is located in Palau Foronda (Ronda de Sant Pau, 43-45), which also houses the Municipal Consumer Information Office (OMIC). The OMIC provides information and complaint handling services on consumer issues. There is also the Consumer Arbitration Board, a fast, efficient and free out-of-court service that makes it easy to resolve any disputes that may arise between consumers and business owners.

Barcelona and responsible consumption

Responsible consumption is a growing concern in Barcelona, which is why the City Council and other institutions and initiatives in the city have launched projects in recent years to encourage sustainable practices and provide people with easy access to products and services that promote environmental, social and economic sustainability:

a) Information tools to find sustainable products and services in the city of Barcelona

Platforms such as Barcelona+Sostenible, Pam a Pam and Comerç Verd provide detailed information on how and where to find sustainable products and services in the city. These resources include interactive maps, directories and other educational materials to facilitate informed choices for responsible consumption. Barcelona City Council also has its own repositories, such as Viatja a través de l’ESS [Travel through the SSE], where you can find all kinds of initiatives, organised by sector and area, and filter the information according to the type of service or product you need, and even whether you want to buy online or in person. And for groceries, it has set up the Where to buy sustainable food website.

There is also a wealth of information resources available to learn more about responsible consumption, including Opcions’ Consumpèdia glossary, GUST’s “La Cuina que Canta” [The Singing Kitchen] publication and Crític’s “Dossier dAlimentació Sostenible” [Sustainable Food Kit], which offer informative and educational content on sustainable food and other topics related to conscious and sustainable consumption.

b) Training and awareness-raising

There are many different workshops and campaigns available to consumers. From Zero Waste BCN’s inclusive sustainability workshops to awareness-raising campaigns such as CULTIVAT and Multiplica’s training course, Barcelona offers opportunities for everyone to engage in responsible and sustainable consumption. To make sure you don’t miss anything, check out Barcelona City Council’s Agenda+Sostenible page, promoted by the Network of Environmental Education Facilities (XEAB), of which the Responsible Consumption Space is a member.

c) Production and consumption

There are sustainable production and local food projects such as Gotic Ferments, which has a kombucha workshop in Horta-Guinardó, and Nomdonalagana, which makes jams in the Sant Martí district and works with women who have been victims of gender violence.

The circular economy, product associations and exchange programmes to avoid unnecessary waste are also being promoted through the Library of Things in Sant Martí and Bibliocoses in Poble Sec.

When it comes to shopping, there are several options for people who want to practise responsible consumption. Platforms such as La Zona provide a digital marketplace where social and solidarity economy initiatives offer sustainable local products that respect workers’ rights. FoodCoop is a cooperative supermarket and LEconomat Social is a cooperative that prioritises sustainable, locally sourced goods. And for farm-to-table consumption, the city has been hosting farmers’ markets: find locations and opening times here!

d) Distribution

The way in which products reach our tables can also encourage conscious and responsible consumption. Terra Pagesa, for example, is an initiative that facilitates and promotes the sale and consumption of local and seasonal products from small and medium-sized farmers in Catalonia.

In short, through a broad combination of information resources, the wide range of products already available in Barcelona and the City Council’s cross-cutting support for local initiatives, the city is working day by day to change the consumption model to one that is more conscious and respectful of the environment and people.

Barcelona City Council, through Barcelona Activa, also manages the programme of grants and subsidies for local socioeconomic promotion Impulsem el que Fas [We promote what you do]. This initiative supports projects rooted in the local area that promote entrepreneurship and enterprise, the revitalisation of ground-floor commercial premises, socioeconomic innovation, quality employment, responsible and sustainable tourism, responsible consumption, sustainable agri-food models, and local logistics using zero-emission vehicles. In fact, the initiatives described in this report have all been supported under this funding line.

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