The Relationship between Consumption and Sustainability: Assessing the Effect of Life Cycle Costs on Market Price

Madhavi Venkatesan, Bridgewater State University


Economics is a science that evaluates human behaviors within the framework of a resource-constrained world. However, to the extent that the behavior of economic participants does not include an evaluation of sustainability, economic outcomes can fall significantly short of being sustainable, leading instead to resource depletion, degradation, and exploitation. The goal of the assignment described in this chapter is for students to analyze their individual consumption motivations and evaluate the sustainability of a specific consumption choice. The assignment relies on the assessment of the life cycle costs of a purchased good that, by definition, evaluates environmental and social costs from production to disposal. Students conduct online research about the life cycle impacts of a good and assess the impacts in relation to the good’s observed market price. In the assessment process, students are prompted to determine whether the price promotes overconsumption and promotes unsustainable outcomes. After completing this assignment, students should be able to (1) recognize the current drivers of their own and others’ consumption behaviors, (2) assess the market price of a good relative to the externalities of its life cycle (production, distribution, consumption, and waste), and (3) describe how market prices impact (un)sustainable consumption behaviors.