Innovations in Sustainable Consumption

Innovations in Sustainable Consumption

New Economics, Socio-technical Transitions and Social Practices

Advances in Ecological Economics series

Edited by Maurie J. Cohen, Halina Szejnwald Brown and Philip J. Vergragt

This timely volume recognizes that traditional policy approaches to reduce human impacts on the environment through technological change – for example, emphasizing resource efficiency and the development of renewable energy sources – are insufficient to meet the most pressing sustainability challenges of the twenty-first century. Instead, the editors and contributors argue that we must fundamentally reconfigure our lifestyles and social institutions if we are to make the transition toward a truly sustainable future.

Chapter 11: The cultural dimension of sustainable consumption practices: an exploration in theory and policy

Gert Spaargaren

Subjects: environment, ecological economics


Environmental social scientists have long been concerned with how to conceptualize ‘environmental behaviors’ and ‘environmental awareness and norms.’ From a scientific viewpoint, the question relates to how people in their everyday lives become engaged with issues such as climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity, waste generation and renewable energy. In other words, how do ordinary people get to grips with environmental issues and how do they perceive, comprehend, evaluate and manage the connections that their personal lifestyles and routine consumption practices have in terms of global environmental change (Cohen and Murphy, 2001; Southerton et al., 2004; Jackson, 2006)? From a policy perspective, there is the need to develop a better understanding of everyday consumption practices since how we dwell in our houses, drive our cars and participate in leisure activities are significant when it comes to achieving substantial reductions in overall carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and other environmental improvements (Dietz et al., 2009). In many European countries, the policy debate on behavior change and sustainable consumption continues to be dominated by social psychologists and economists working primarily from an individualist standpoint (see the chapter by Bente Halkier in this volume). Theories of practice make possible a nonindividualist understanding of environmental behaviors while opening up new approaches for global environmental governance.

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