It is increasingly acknowledged that the growing consumption in the North constitutes an important part of global environmental problems. To improve the possibilities of dealing with this aspect of the problems, this paper explores some of the driving forces behind the growth in consumption. The first section introduces the environmental debate on consumption including the relationship between final consumption and the consumption of resources, the recent political acceptance of dealing with consumption, and the fundamental conditions for consumption growth in the North. In the following sections, a cross-disciplinary approach is applied in a broad search for the driving forces behind the willingness to consume. Throughout the exposition two questions are explored: 1) Why are productivity increases largely transformed into income increases instead of more leisure? 2) Why is such a large part of these income increases used for the consumption of goods and services with a relatively high materials-intensity instead of less materials-intensive alternatives? The explanations are divided into three groups: first, the economic explanations, including socio-economic aspects related to the institutional set-up of the economy; second, socio-psychological explanations focusing on consumption from the perspective of the human being embedded in specific social relations; third, historical and socio-technological explanations focusing on different aspects of everyday life. The paper concludes with some reflections on the political implications of the analysis.