The ABC of sufficiency: the new superpower of cities?

#Decoding Sufficiency


Publication date

March 6, 2023

Sufficiency is a new buzzword in Europe since the energy crisis. However, “Sufficiency is not just about energy, it’s not just about this winter; it’s about consuming less to allow others to consume properly while respecting the planetary limits” as rightly states Anne Bringault, coordinator at Réseau Action Climat France

Sufficiency is often mistaken with other concepts (take efficiency or self-sufficiency) and can be hidden behind other wordings such as “avoiding consumption” or “reducing demand”. So, this article as well as Energy Cities’ brand-new glossary will decode sufficiency for you and show how it is put into practice at the city level.  

Sufficiency is not rocket science

According to the 2022 IPPC report, “sufficiency policies are a set of measures and daily practices that avoid demand for energy, materials, land and water while delivering human wellbeing for all within planetary boundaries”. Sufficiency applies to every aspect of society but has the highest potential to reduce our consumption of resources in the building and transport sectors.  

For Energy Cities, sufficiency is about taking a step back and rethinking our needs: Here is an example: I don’t need a car, I need to go to a place.  

Our definition of sufficiency embraces structural changes and collective aspects. There is much to be done at European, national but also local levels to provide the conditions that allow people and businesses to make sufficiency choices. For example, it is essential to provide safe cycling infrastructure to encourage people to cycle. 

This leads us to our last point: a just transition is the condition for a sufficiency-based society. It would ensure that everyone has enough and that no one has too much, thereby staying within planetary boundaries. The effort that each person will have to make will therefore not be the same depending on whether their lifestyle already exceeds the planetary limits or not. This is well pictured by the doughnut theory developed by Kate Raworth and implemented in some cities as Amsterdam.  

Sufficiency vs Efficiency  

Efficiency is about optimization: being efficient means you will use as little resources as possible to produce the same good. It differs from sufficiency as efficiency does not aim at avoiding the use of resources and questioning the necessity of a service or a good (e.g.  I use A+++ washing machine and dryer (efficiency), but do not think that I can wash cold and use a line dry instead (sufficiency)). Nevertheless, both concepts are complementary and can lead to consuming less precious resources overall.  

Sufficiency vs Self-sufficiency  

A person or place that is self-sufficient is autonomous and independent from any external resource and support. This is far from rethinking needs and reducing demand of resources. Self-sufficiency is therefore a false friend of sufficiency.  

Sufficiency vs Austerity  

We talk about austerity when a government takes a set of measures to decrease public spending in view of reducing the budget deficit. Unlike sufficiency, austerity is not chosen nor fair. Reducing the heating temperature to 19°C in all buildings without taking into account the impact this measure may have on less equipped or more vulnerable populations is austerity. Taking a similar measure while ensuring that the most vulnerable groups are supported (thermal renovation, temperature adaptation according to use, etc.) is sufficiency. 

Sufficiency vs Frugality  

Contrary to sufficiency, frugality applies to individuals. The aim is to live a life more focused on “essential” values with a complete rejection of affluent society. It is a cousin of the concept of sufficiency.  

But isn’t it what already happens in my city?  

Although they do not always call it that way, many cities have already taken sufficiency measures, in particular in housing, mobility, food consumption, and land use policies. If you want to see if your city is part of it and discover the 50 identified sufficiency measures, have a look at this report here (FULFILL project). More measures are listed here by the Energy Suffizienz ENSU project.  

Since 2014, Grenoble has banned advertising from 90% of the city’s space and regulated the remaining 10%. That way, the French city reduced resource use for the operation of advertising panels while its residents are far less encouraged to (over-)consume. 

Other cities have developed a more structural vision around sufficiency as it is the case in Zürich. The Swiss capital city aims at getting to 2000 watts of primary energy consumption per habitant per year by 2050.  Geneva or Amsterdam are further interesting examples that are featured in this publication of Energy Cities and ADEME. 


Sufficiency can be a compass that helps local authorities drive their policies towards a just economy, respecting the planet boundaries and ensuring everyone’s basic needs. It is a powerful tool local leaders might use to provide a framework and meaning to all their climate and energy actions.  

Read the glossary to check definitions and examples of other related concepts such as circularity, degrowth, resource-wise…!  

This article is the first in a series of “Decoding Sufficiency” articles. Subscribe to the “resource-wise and socially just local economies” hub newsletter to read future articles.