Confronting Environmental Issues
Edited by Richard P.F. Holt, Steven Pressman and Clive L. Spash
Chapter 9: The Socio-Psychology of Achieving Sustainable Consumption: An Example Using Mass Communication
Lucia Reisch, Clive L. Spash and Sabine Bietz INTRODUCTION Changing consumption patterns to be more environmentally friendly or sustainable is becoming a major issue but has been a recognized problem for some time. Various threads of thought came together in the second half of the twentieth century, and these formed the basis for the modern critique by ecological economists of standard economic growth as a means for increasing human welfare. The idea that more consumer goods increase absolute levels of well-being was attacked theoretically by Hirsch’s (1977) social limits to growth and empirically by Easterlin (1974). The physical constraints on material throughput were made evident by the work of Georgescu-Roegen (1971) and Kneese et al. (1970) on incorporating the laws of thermodynamics into economic models. This led Daly (1977) to recommend a steady-state economy which respects the need for limits to the scale of human activity. However, achieving such a state would mean addressing the role of corporations in promoting consumerism as evident in the works of Kapp (1950, 1978) and Galbraith (1958, 1967).1 The idea of the consumer being sovereign in the marketplace and so determining what is produced is then debunked (Mishan, 1969). Thus, sustainability policy emphasizes the need to develop practical approaches by which consumption behaviour can be changed (Reisch, 2004). The complete picture as sketched above is far from having been adopted in political or policy circles despite the concept of ‘sustainable consumption’ moving to the international policy agenda (for example, OECD, 1997). Rather than...
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