The future is notoriously difficult to predict, but it can be invented. One option would be to develop a strategy directed towards sustainable consumption because, while the patterns of consumption of food, energy and materials, including water, differ greatly in various parts of the world, if business continues as usual, rates of consumption threaten to become a serious source of conflict. Among the challenges of the new century are a better understanding of what is meant by the transition towards sustainable consumption and how science and technology could be used to improve the efficiency with which resources are utilized, new products and processes invented, and the environmental cost of modern lifestyles best evaluated. Efforts to influence the phenomenon of over-consumption in nations that are more developed economically, and address under-consumption in nations that are less developed, are not topics that can be resolved by scientists and technologists alone. Interdisciplinary studies have become increasingly important to elucidate best methods of production, benefits, threats and consumer behaviour. Implementation of new remedies from science and technology, however, requires dialogue with the public on a case-by-case basis and should begin at the earliest stages of innovation. Sustainable consumption as a strategy lies at the heart of sustainable development; it provides the basis of social equity currently undermined by the rich–poor divide and a route to conflict avoidance.