Innovations in Sustainable Consumption
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Innovations in Sustainable Consumption

New Economics, Socio-technical Transitions and Social Practices

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.
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Chapter 8: Sustainable consumption, energy and failed transitions: the problem of adaptation

David J. Hess


Theories of socio-technical transitions provide two principle advantages for the analysis of sustainable consumption: a multidecade, multiscale approach that enables long-term, systemic thinking in a comparative perspective; and an integrated analysis, in the tradition of technology studies, of the social and technical aspects of the design and development of large-scale technological systems, including infrastructures (for example, Hughes, 1987). The approach has been used to study how to manage long-term changes in socio-technical systems to make them more sustainable (for example, Jørgensen and Sorensen, 1999; Smith et al., 2010; Geels, 2011). However, there is growing recognition that sustainability transitions are occurring at a pace that is too slow to stop or reverse the worst effects of human societies on natural systems. As a result, there is a need to analyze more carefully not only the problem of how to achieve a sustainability transition but also the implications of transition failure. This study will examine the thesis that the failure to address significant global environmental problems in a timely way has resulted in an ensuing shift toward an adaptation transition. The emergence of an adaptation transition has significant policy implications for the management of the sustainability transition, including sustainable consumption.

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