Putting Sustainability into Practice

Putting Sustainability into Practice

Applications and Advances in Research on Sustainable Consumption

Edited by Emily H. Kennedy, Maurie J. Cohen and Naomi Krogman

Putting Sustainability into Practice offers a robust and interdisciplinary understanding of contemporary consumption routines that challenges conventional approaches to social change premised on behavioral economics and social psychology. Empirical research is featured from eight different countries, using both qualitative and quantitative data to support its thesis.

Chapter 8: Researching transitions to sustainable consumption: a practice theory approach to studying innovations in consumption

Melanie Jaeger-Erben and Jana Rückert-John

Subjects: environment, ecological economics, environmental sociology, social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


Novel or alternative social practices have great potential to shift current unsustainable forms of consumption. They can be introduced through collective means, such as citizen-energy cooperatives, swapping and sharing networks, and do-it-yourself (DIY) workshops. These collective institutions are typically organized on a collaborative basis and oriented toward finding less environmentally and socially damaging ways to produce and consume resources. Further, such initiatives can communicate values of solidarity, communality, and sufficiency. Since they are expected to provide impetus for social change and problem-solving, such efforts are often referred to as ‘social innovations’ (European Commission 2010, p. 8). In terms of promoting climate protection and sustainable behavior, many expect that social innovations have the potential to mobilize consumers more effectively than ‘top-down’ policy interventions (Bergman et al. 2010; Transition Towns Network 2008). This outcome is expected because social innovations are ‘grounded in the social relations and experiences of those in need’ (Moulaert et al. 2013, p. 1) and typically are diffused through personally relevant social networks. In this way, social innovations are able to obtain high levels of acceptance (McMichael and Shipworth 2013) and – as will be argued further below – have the potential to transcend individualistic approaches to sustainability (see also Chapters 1 and 3). Given their capacity to stimulate sustainable development, social innovations have attracted attention among policy-makers (Barroso 2011; Bureau of European Policy Advisers 2010).

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