Get 20M+ Full-Text Papers For Less Than $1.50/day. Start a 14-Day Trial for You or Your Team.

Learn More →

Individual consumption and systemic societal transformation: introduction to the special issue

Individual consumption and systemic societal transformation: introduction to the special issue Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy http://sspp.proquest.com INTRODUCTION Individual consumption and systemic societal transformation: introduction to the special issue 1 2 3,4 Maurie J. Cohen , Halina Szejnwald Brown , & Philip J. Vergragt Graduate Program in Environmental Policy Studies, New Jersey Institute of Technology, University Heights, Newark, NJ 07102 USA (email: mcohen@adm.njit.edu) Department of International Development, Community, and Environment, Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610 USA (email: hbrown@clarku.edu) Tellus Institute, 11 Arlington Street, Boston, MA 02116 USA (email: pvergragt@tellus.org) Marsh Institute, Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610 USA (email: pvergragt@clarku.edu) The social and environmental problems engen- Leonard, 2010). Life-cycle analysis, input-output dered by contemporary consumer lifestyles first re- analysis, material-flow analysis, and related tech- ceived explicit international acknowledgement at the niques have made important contributions to these 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Chapter Four efforts. In Europe and elsewhere, governments and of Agenda 21 from this event declared that “the ma- supranational organizations have drawn on these in- jor cause of the continued deterioration of the global sights to steer consumers toward preferable options, environment is the unsustainable pattern of con- using ecolabeling schemes and public education sumption and production, particularly in industri- campaigns (Boström & Klintman, 2008; Nash, 2009; alized countries, which is a matter of grave concern, Scholl et al. 2010). A few rare instances have entailed aggravating poverty and imbalances” (United suppression of demand through taxation and prohibi- Nations, 1992). This particular framing of the root tions. causes of the societal and ecological challenges con- These developments are commendable, but they fronting the world, not surprisingly, triggered a vig- amount to little more than token gestures relative to orous rebuttal in countries deemed to be most directly the 90–95% reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions responsible, even prompting the first President Bush required to achieve global targets over the next few to proclaim that “the American way of life [was] not decades (Bennett & Collins, 2009; Berg, 2010). up for negotiation” (McKibben, 2005; see also While these initiatives provide concerned individuals Cohen, 2010). with potentially helpful ways to take action, they do Nonetheless, during the subsequent two decades, not confront consumer culture and incessant political public recognition of the profound toll exacted by the pressure for consumption-driven economic growth heavy demands of affluent consumers in both devel- (Allen & Kovach, 2000; Muldoon, 2006; Autio et al. oped and developing countries has widened and 2009; see also Luke, 2005; Princen, 2005). The main deepened (Myers & Kent, 2004; Chakravarty et al. drivers of overconsumption in wealthy countries– 2009; Rockström et al. 2009; Assadourian, 2010). housing policies that incentivize large-home con- Numerous strategies have emerged to encourage the struction, transportation policies that promote subur- “greening” of consumer practices through, for exam- ban sprawl, agricultural policies that encourage un- ple, the remanufacture of obsolete goods, the eco- healthful diets, energy policies that induce profligate logical design of products, and the introduction of resource use, and financial policies that stimulate multifold varieties of ostensibly “ecofriendly” mer- permissive money management–remain outside the chandise (for recent reviews see Goleman, 2009; reach of what is generally regarded as “green con- sumption.” Furthermore, the gains from energy and It merits recalling that consumption was a key theme of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, but the prob- See Tukker et al. (2010) and the articles comprising the associated lems it posed were not explicitly conveyed in any of the event’s issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology for a recent overview of final communications. Instead, population growth in developing this work. countries continued to serve as the pivotal concern in international An interesting development that is emerging in the United States discussions on biophysical carrying capacity throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In the United States, former President Jimmy Carter as this article is being published is that the National Commission infamously tried to initiate a public discussion on the ill-effects of on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is controversially proposing consumption, but his efforts did not have the intended effect on elimination of the lucrative mortgage-interest tax deduction, a public policy (Mattson, 2009). provision that has long been recognized as a public subsidy that © 2010 Cohen et al. Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation materials efficiency are significantly dampened by minded individuals from the surrounding area for rebound effects in the form of increased use or reallo- monthly discussions. These meetings gathered mo- cation of monetary savings to other activities mentum and members of a small founders group (Binswanger, 2001; Hertwich, 2005; Herring & Roy, formalized the network’s institutional dimensions and 2007; Polimeni et al. 2008; Hanley et al. 2009; organized an inaugural workshop in October, 2009 at Herring et al. 2009). Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Ap- In response to these circumstances, debates on proximately three-dozen researchers from the United sustainable consumption have recently begun to States and Canada attended this gathering with the move in several new directions. Some scholars are theme of “Individual Consumption and Systemic So- examining the macroeconomic and political- cietal Transformation.” This special issue of economic context of consumption (Schor, 2005; Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy contains Victor, 2008; Jackson, 2009; Cohen, 2010; Harris, several papers that were originally presented in draft 2010), the distribution of globally equitable allow- form at this conference. ances to emit greenhouse gases (McMichael et al. Lending the workshop a sense of urgency was 2007; see also Meyer, 2000), and the notion of “de- that much of the world was (and is) still reeling from growth” (Latouche, 2010; van Griethuysen, 2010). the collapse of major American and international fi- Other researchers are considering the prospects of nancial institutions and the ensuing economic dislo- transitions toward sociotechnical regimes that could cations. Among other revelations, these events enable more sustainable modes of consumption clearly exposed the connections between the global (Chappells, 2008; Rohracher, 2008), the role of financial system and the global climate system: the bounded sociotechnical experiments (Vergragt & endangerment of both systems could be attributed to Brown, 2007; Brown & Vergragt, 2008), and studies doctrinaire allegiance to neoliberal economics and of social practices (Evans & Abrahamse, 2009; unquestioned pursuit of economic growth. Transfor- Røpke, 2009; Gram-Hanssen, 2010). The recent mation toward an alternative paradigm will entail a emergence of the “new economics” as a visible field new understanding of human well-being, one that is is evidence that many of these threads are being wo- sustainable, equitable, and capable of fulfilling indi- ven together into a coherent paradigm (Boyle & vidual and societal aspirations for a “good and ethical Simms, 2009; Schor, 2010; Speth, 2010). Notably, life.” Given the intimate connections between ma- this research is beginning to fuse with a range of so- terial standards of living and generally regarded cial movement activity organized around localism, notions of human satisfaction, consideration of alter- alternative food systems, postautomobile transporta- native economic systems is inseparable from debates tion systems, and community responses to peak oil on sustainable consumption and technological (e.g., Hopkins, 2008; Hess, 2009; Dennis & Urry, change. 2009; Follett, 2009). This first SCORAI workshop furthermore ac- It is in this intellectual space that the Sustainable knowledged that, in comparison to developments Consumption Research and Action Initiative elsewhere, organized scholarly and policy debates (SCORAI) is situated. A knowledge network com- about sustainable consumption were seriously prising both academics and practitioners, SCORAI is lagging in North America. During the early- and mid- the organizational nexus for work that addresses 2000s, Europe saw a veritable explosion of activity challenges at the interface of material consumption, human fulfillment, lifestyle satisfaction, and macro- An important source of inspiration for the establishment of economic and technological change. This collabora- SCORAI was a prior European project called SCORE! (Sustain- tion began in 2008 as a modest initiative of the able Consumption Research Exchanges). Boston-based Tellus Institute to bring together like- Financial support for the inaugural SCORAI workshop was pro- vided by the ProQuest/U.S. Geological Survey Partnership, the Tellus Institute, and the following Clark University administrative units (Provost’s Office; Department of International Development, contributes to the upscaling of home size, encourages low-density Community, and Environment; Graduate School of Geography; residential patterns, and compounds socioeconomic and geo- and Graduate School of Management). A comprehensive list of graphic inequalities (Calmes, 2010; cf. Krugman, 2010a; see also workshop contributions is available at http://www.scorai. Landis & McClure, 2010). Emergent political discussions on the org/participants09.html. imposition of a national consumption tax, as well as an increase in Though authors demonstrate different postures with respect to the the federal excise tax on gasoline, further highlight that some of these issues are beginning to attract serious attention (Mankiw, contemporary economic growth paradigm, a body of literature is 2010; see also Seidman, 1997). The establishment of the Consumer developing on the common foundations of the financial and cli- Financial Protection Bureau is another example of an effort to mate crises. See, in particular, de Zoysa & Newman, 2009; Foster engage with the drivers of overconsumption. & Magdoff, 2009; Hemerijck et al. 2009; Jackson, 2009; Kallis et al. 2009; Leichenko et al. 2010; Liu & Raven, 2010; Naughten, See also the New Economics Foundation (http://www.neweco 2010; and Sampford, 2010. nomics.org) and the New Economics Institute (http://new economicsinstitute.org). Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation on this front, marked by a steady stream of publicly scientists, industrial ecologists, urban planners, mar- funded projects, conferences, journal articles, and keting and management specialists, and scholars from books in conjunction with robust interest on the part the fields of science and technology studies and tech- of policy makers who issued several national and nology innovation studies. The workshop also in- multinational sustainable consumption plans (e.g., cluded representatives from a variety of policy com- CEC, 2008; Nash, 2009; Scholl et al. 2010). It munities in the United States and Canada. The seemed as if hardly a week went by without a signifi- conference aimed to create connections across dispa- cant event on the issue in Brussels, London, Paris, or rate disciplines, to formulate a North American re- Berlin. While sustainable consumption did not attract search program around consumption and well-being, the same kinds of formal attention in Asia, the topic and to contribute to the ongoing policy dialogue did gain traction during this period among civil so- around these issues. In sum, the twenty papers pre- ciety organizations throughout the region (Hobson, sented at the workshop addressed the following 2004; de Zoysa, 2007; Zhao & Schroeder, 2010). In questions: contrast, in North America (and especially in the United States), limitless household consumption • What do studies of consumers’ responses to pol- continued to be regarded with little exception as an icy instruments and other interventions teach us altogether beneficial societal objective. Skeptics were about designing policies? What does this work marginalized and taunted for threatening to kill the tell us about active resistance to changing domi- goose that laid the golden eggs. Calls to move house- nant consumption practices? hold consumption in more sustainable directions • Can new lifestyle choices emerge around the were derided as softheaded and typically dismissed pursuit of well-being, leisure, or fun? out of hand. • What can the “make do” practices of the poor What a difference two years makes. Between the teach us about the nonmaterial means of pur- formulation of plans to convene the first SCORAI suing well-being? workshop and the appearance of this special issue we • If we are biologically predisposed to appropriate have witnessed a sea change in public sensibilities all available resources, what are the cultural and the policy landscape. There is growing recogni- framings/metaphors that institutionalize these tion among observers across the political spectrum behaviors? that lifestyles based on boundless consumer credit, • How does institutional change occur, especially status-fueled consumerism, and rampant advertising with regard to habituated and entrenched social have fallen into disrepute. Exhortations to return to practices? “the way things used to be” are losing their fervor. In • While hopeful “change the light bulb” consumer the United States and parts of Europe realization is behaviors seem to be gaining ground, they re- dawning that we may be facing a protracted future of main socially marginal and ecologically insignif- no-growth and enforced austerity and Japan’s so- icant. How can these efforts be usefully scaled called “lost decade” is looming as the likely fate of up? several affluent countries (Goodman, 2009; Kang & • Is a new social movement required to affect life- Syed, 2009; Tabuchi, 2009; Krugman, 2010b). style choices and/or to spur systemic change? Do Commentators once derided as heretics and many small initiatives facilitate or undermine so- naysayers are now prominently featured on the pages cial mobilization? of the international business press. The time is be- • Most lifestyle choices are not conscious in rela- coming ripe for new ideas. tion to big ideas such as sustainability. Is it nec- The inaugural SCORAI workshop focused on essary to raise that consciousness? Alternatively, both the socioeconomic and sociocultural dimensions is a more strategic response required to focus ac- of sustainable consumption. Attendees included soci- tivist energy on systemic changes in the ologists, anthropologists, political scientists, geogra- institutional-political-economic realm? phers, ecological economists, environmental social • Can professional elites become agents of change, or do they inevitably fall into the trap of incre- mentalism? What should be the role of non- See, for example, the Asia-Pacific Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production (http://www.aprscp.net). governmental organizations (NGOs)? Do NGOs The relatively low level of interest in sustainable consumption in need to redefine their traditional role of princi- Canada and the United States has been especially evident at the pally lobbying for government policies? governmental level. For instance, the region was the last of five • Is a “leisure-time transition” through workweek zonal groupings (Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America- reduction necessary to create a steady-state Caribbean, North America, and West Asia) to convene an experts meeting under the auspices of the Marrakech Process (see Government of Canada et al. 2009). Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation economy? What is the feasibility of such expanded our understanding of the role of resilience developments? in buffering disturbances. Hess applies this general framework to examine the relationship between One of the workshop’s most important and household resilience and sustainable consumption. tangible achievements to date has been the creation He identifies two types of resilience: economic and of a thriving network that spans a wide range of tradi- material. Strategies to improve economic resilience tional academic disciplines and comprises scholars can take the form of diversifying revenue streams and and practitioners who have come to identify them- increasing household-level economic storage through selves with the challenges of sustainable consump- savings, insurance, and education. Material resilience tion. Members of this group further find that their is pursued by investing in supplementary physical work is powerfully enriched by interaction with pol- systems like back-up generators, space heaters, and icy makers and activists engaged on these issues in other emergency equipment. These tactics can en- the field. A central goal of SCORAI is to further hance or undermine sustainable consumption pat- grow this network by launching new research terns. Hess presents expenditure data from two actual projects, evolving the group’s electronic platforms households: a single-individual household living un- for internal debate and outward communication, and der relatively modest circumstances and a relatively periodically organizing intense multiday workshops affluent household with two adults and two children. on cutting-edge ideas. These case studies shed light on which purchase de- The core of this special issue comprises five cisions consistently integrate resilience and sustain- contributions (four articles and one Community Es- ability and which put the two goals in conflict. The say) that were initially presented at the inaugural study shows how research and policy making on SCORAI workshop. The authors revised their work sustainable consumption can usefully be embedded in on the basis of extensive feedback at the event itself household financial management. Hess’s approach and in response to evaluations prepared by peer re- arguably has greater utility for ordinary consumers viewers. We are grateful to the dedication of the than more abstract metrics like kilowatt hours, eco- contributors and extend special thanks to all of the logical footprints, and carbon-dioxide equivalents. participants and referees for their insights and candor. Richard Wilk draws on the work of linguist The special issue also includes an introductory edi- George Lakoff to argue that our view of the world is torial by Erik Assadourian and nine book reviews of organized and structured through different meta- recently published titles that we hope will be of addi- phorical lenses that vary geographically, culturally, tional interest to readers. socioeconomically, and in other ways. Moreover, In the first article, William Rees reflects on the folk understandings typically deviate from expert international community’s feeble political response to appraisals. Wilk argues that consumption is generally the progressively more ominous prognosis for the interpreted in common parlance through metaphors global climate. Is it not, he asks, an indication of an like fire, eating, hunting, and gathering. The problem irrational mindset for the public to disregard the with this treatment is that we fail to distinguish warnings conveyed by these scientific appraisals? between forms of consumption that are socially and Rees seeks clues for this apparent disconnect in con- environmentally deleterious (automobile driving) and temporary research on evolutionary biology and hu- others that are rather benign (collecting antique cars). man cognition. He observes that human beings are, in In addition, seemingly nonconsumption activities– ecological terms, quintessential K-strategists (i.e., sports, political events, and investing–can involve ap- large bodied, relatively long living), with a propen- propriation of vast resources and engender consider- sity to relentlessly appropriate all available carrying able fluidity between “needs” and “wants.” Wilk capacity. In the absence of any biophysical checks, suggests that a more effective metaphor for stimulat- human communities will inexorably perpetuate their ing sustainable consumption would be a see-saw, as it own survival and reproductive success. This evolu- evokes an inherent need to morally balance virtuous tionary predisposition is reinforced by various socio- and errant consumer activities, though it is important cultural constructs such as the commitment to eco- to recognize that such lay accounting systems are nomic growth. We seem, Rees argues, to be captive unlikely to correspond to scientific assessments. He to our own biologically determined survival tactics. concludes by noting that contemporary knowledge of David Hess next considers the challenge of sus- folk models of consumption is at a very early stage of tainable consumption from the standpoint of house- development, but is a fruitful area for inquiry. hold resilience. Human ecologists, sustainability John Stutz draws on economic historian Angus scientists, and others over the past two decades have Maddison’s dataset stretching back two millennia to demonstrate that the post-World War II period of 10 “explosive growth” among the world’s affluent See http://www.scorai.org. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation countries was accompanied by a growing “spread” activity is through a tripartite framework consisting between relatively affluent and poor nations. At the of the search for alternatives to consumerism and same time, incomes are now increasing in several individualism as social organizing principles, the de- developing countries, giving rise to new consumer sign of economic models less reliant on consumer societies. Improvements in technological efficiency– spending and personal debt, and the pursuit of more even if such strategies were to be pursued equitable distributions of income and work (to enable vigorously–will not offset the resultant growth in tradeoffs of goods consumption for leisure time and energy and resource consumption. Stutz posits the community engagement). This view simultaneously need for an income transition (analogous to the recognizes that developing countries need economic familiar demographic transition) predicated on a shift and consumption growth, but these goals should be from material affluence to well-being. He then dis- mediated by “green” technology and other sustain- cusses how well-being could be enhanced through a able practices. Momentum on these issues is likely to reduction in working hours that would enable people build during preparations for the 2012 United Nations in wealthy countries to pursue more personally satis- Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) fying activities. Reductions in income would slow the and as the problems inherent in the prevailing eco- rate of economic growth in these nations and nomic growth paradigm come into sharper focus. attenuate their energy and resource consumption Within this framework, this workshop aims to while creating opportunities to achieve a more highlight the interstices among three important re- globally equitable income distribution. Stutz search approaches on sustainable consumption. First, describes efforts to lower the intensity of work on sociotechnical transitions emphasizes tech- environmental impact per unit of economic activity, nological innovation and diffusion and the coevolu- to reduce the pace of growth in output, and to tion of technologies, societal institutions, and culture, promote an income transition as constituting a “three- but is relatively silent on economic and political front war.” contexts and the nature of technology-human behav- The final core contribution to this special issue is ior interactions. Second, research on social practices a Community Essay by Tom Princen. Echoing some centers on the mutual interactions between technol- of Wilk’s themes, the commentary highlights the ogy and commonplace daily behaviors and examines central role of metaphors for talking about both sus- how more resource-intensive social practices emerge tainability and sustainable consumption. Princen ob- in response to technological innovations; however, to serves that if we are going to successfully embark on date scholars have paid less attention to the evolution a more socially and ecologically sustainable path, it of new technologies from a complex system perspec- will be necessary to construct a new set of metaphors tive or to the economic or political drivers of con- that reshape how we think. He describes how pre- sumption. Finally, studies in the political economy of vailing understanding of human-environment rela- consumption give prominence to the institutional tions is conceptualized as threats that need to be factors that shape prevailing modes of consumption, tamed and that survival is dependent on continuous but this work in the so-called “new economics” has expansion. Princen argues that we need to set aside tended to devote much less attention to the role of these dominant metaphors that regard the environ- technology. ment as a laboratory, storehouse, or battlefield. In The event seeks to forge intellectual bridges their place, it is necessary to identify and nurture across these perspectives, with the goal of enriching new, more effective and constrained lenses that are each one through novel framings, new analytic treat- based, for example, on the notion of a watershed, ments, and development of a shared language. Par- neighborhood, or spaceship. He proposes that we ticipants will integrate work from ongoing research in need not discard completely the growth metaphor, several fields, including innovation studies, sociology but we need to frame growth as a process of matura- of social practices, and ecological macroeconomics. tion and improvement, rather than limitless extension The end result will deepen the current body of and enlargement. knowledge on how consumption patterns evolve in a At the time this special issue is being published technological society and expose more clearly the (November 2010), SCORAI is actively involved in role that policy interventions, grassroots initiatives, planning its second workshop, due to be held in April small-scale experiments, social movements, and mar- 2011. As noted above, debates about the efficacy of ket actors can have in affecting changes consistent economic growth have gained new visibility in coun- with twenty-first century needs. tries of the global North over the past year, and dif- ferent approaches for pursuing personal and societal well-being have become part of research and policy agendas. One way to organize this broad range of Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation Goodman, P. 2009. Failure offers lessons Japan would rather References forget. The New York Times September 6:WK3. Government of Canada, Government of the United States, United Allen, P. & Kovach, M. 2000. The capitalist composition of or- Nations Environment Programme, and United Nations De- ganic: the potential of markets in fulfilling the promise of or- partment of Economic and Social Affairs. 2009. North ganic agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values 17(3):221– American Multi-Stakeholder Workshop on Sustainable Con- sumption and Production: Co-Chairs Summary and Work- Assadourian, E. 2010. The rise and fall of consumer cultures. In shop Report. Washington, DC: State Department. State of the World: Transforming Cultures—From Consum- Gram-Hanssen, K. 2010. Standby consumption in households erism to Sustainability. pp. 3–20. New York: W. W. Norton. analyzed with a practice theory approach. Journal of Indus- Autio, M., Heiskanen, E., & Heinonen, V. 2009. Narratives of trial Ecology 14(1):150–165. “green” consumers: the antihero, the environmental hero, and Hanley, N., McGregor, P., Swales, J., & Turner, K. 2009. Do in- the anarchist. Journal of Consumer Behavior 8(1):40–53. creases in energy efficiency improve environmental quality Bennett, J. & Collins, D. 2009. The policy implications of sustain- and sustainability? Ecological Economics 68(3):692–709. able consumption. Australasian Journal of Environmental Harris, J. 2010. The Macroeconomics of Development Without Management 16(1):47–55. Throughput Growth. Working Paper No. 10–05. Global De- Berg, A. 2010. Not roadmaps but toolboxes: analyzing pioneering velopment and Environment Institute, Tufts University. national programmes for sustainable consumption and pro- http://ase.tufts.edu/gdae. duction. Journal of Consumer Policy Online First: April 30. Hemerijck, A., B. Knapen, & E. van Doorne (Eds.). 2009. After- Binswanger, M. 2001. Technological progress and sustainable shocks: Economic Crisis and Institutional Choice. Amster- development: what about the rebound effect? Ecological dam: Amsterdam University Press. Economics 36(1):119–132. Herring, H. & Roy, R. 2007. Technological innovation, energy Boström, M. & Klintman, M. 2008. Eco-Standards, Product La- efficient design and the rebound effect. Technovation belling and Green Consumerism. New York: Palgrave Mac- 27(4):194–203. millan. Herring, H., S. Sorrell, & D. Elliot (Eds.). 2009. Energy Efficiency Boyle, D. & Simms, A. 2009. The New Economics: A Bigger and Sustainable Consumption: The Rebound Effect. North- Picture. London: Earthscan. ampton, MA: Edward Elgar. Brown, H. & Vergragt, P. 2008. Bounded socio-technical experi- Hertwich, E. 2005. Consumption and the rebound effect: an indus- ments as agents of systemic change: the case of a zero energy trial ecology perspective. Journal of Industrial Ecology 9(1– residential building. Technological Forecasting and Social 2):85–98. Change 75(1):107–130. Hess, D. 2009. Localist Movements in a Global Economy. Cam- Calmes, J. 2010. Panel seeks cuts in social security and higher bridge, MA: MIT Press. taxes. The New York Times November 11:A1. Hobson, K. 2004. Researching “sustainable consumption” in Asia- Chakravarty, S. Chikkatur, A., de Coninck, H., Pacala, S., & Pacific cities. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 45(2):279–288. Socolow, R. 2009. Sharing global CO emission reductions Hopkins, R. 2008. The Transition Handbook: From Oil Depend- among one billion high emitters. Proceedings of the National ency to Local Resilience. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Academy of Sciences 106(29):11884–11888. Green Publishing. Chappells, H. 2008. Systematically sustainable provision? The Jackson, T. 2009. Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a premises and promises of “joined-up” energy demand man- Finite Planet. London: Earthscan. agement. International Journal of Environmental Technology Kallis, G., Martinez-Alier, J., & Norgaard, R. 2009. Paper assets, and Management 9(2–3):259–275. real debts: an ecological-economic exploration of the global Cohen. M. 2010. The international political economy of economic crisis. Critical Perspectives on International Busi- (un)sustainable consumption and the global financial col- ness 5(1–2):14–25. lapse. Environmental Politics 19(1):107–126. Kang, K. & Syed, M. 2009. Overcoming the global financial crisis: Commission of the European Communities (CEC). 2008. Commu- some lessons from Japan’s “lost decade.” CESifo DICE Re- nication from the Commission to the European Parliament, port 7(3):13–20. the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee Krugman, P. 2010a. The hijacked commission. The New York and the Committee of the Regions on the Sustainable Con- Times November 12:A31. sumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy Krugman, P. 2010b. Things could be worse. The New York Times. Action Plan. Brussels: CEC. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/Lex September 9:A29. UriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2008:0397:FIN:en:PDF. Landis, J. & McClure, K. 2010. Rethinking federal housing policy. de Zoysa, R. & Newman, O. 2009. Crisis and resurgence: redefin- Journal of the American Planning Association 76(3):319– ing the United States and European Union relationship in the face of global challenges. Twenty-First Century Society Latouche, S. 2010. Farewell to Growth. Malden, MA: Polity. 4(3):297–318. Leichenko, R., O’Brien, K., Solecki, W. 2010. Climate change and de Zoysa, U. 2007. Sustainable Consumption: An Asian Review. the global financial crisis: a case of double exposure. Annals Nugegoda, Sri Lanka: Center for Environment and Develop- of the Association of American Geographers 100(4):963– ment. Dennis, K. & Urry, J. 2009. After the Car. Malden, MA: Polity. Leonard, A. 2010. The Story of Stuff. New York: Free Press. Evans, D. & Abrahamse, W. 2009. Beyond rhetoric: the possibili- Liu, J. & Raven, P. 2010. China’s environmental challenges and ties of and for “sustainable lifestyles.” Environmental Poli- implications for the world. Critical Reviews in Environmen- tics 18(4):486–502. tal Science and Technology 40(9–10):823–851. Follett, J. 2009. Choosing a food future: differentiating among Luke, T. 2005. Neither sustainable nor development: reconsidering alternative food options. Journal of Agricultural and Envi- sustainability in development. Sustainable Development ronmental Ethics 22(1):31–51. 13(4):228–238. Foster, J. & Magdoff, F. 2009. The Great Financial Crisis: Causes Mankiw. G. 2010. Much to love, and hate, in a VAT. The New and Consequences. New York: Monthly Review Press. York Times May 1:B6. Goleman, D. 2009. Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Mattson, K. 2009. “What the Heck Are You Up to, Mr. President.” Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything. New York: Bloomsbury. New York: Broadway. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation McKibben, B., 2005. Changing the climate. American Prospect Sampford, C. 2010. Re-conceiving the good life: the key to sus- September 18. http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article= tainable globalization. Australian Journal of Social Issues changing_the_climate. 45(1):13–24. McMichael, A., Powles, J., Butler, C., & Uauy, R. 2007. Food, Scholl, G., Rubik, F., Kalimo, H., Biedenkopf, K., & Söebech, T. livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. The 2010. Policies to promote sustainable consumption: innova- Lancet 370(9594):1253–1263. tive approaches in Europe. Natural Resources Forum Meyer, A. 2000. Contraction and Convergence: The Global Solu- 34(1):39–50. tion to Climate Change. Dartington, UK: Green Books. Schor, J. 2005. Prices and quantities: unsustainable consumption Muldoon, A. 2006. Where the green is: examining the paradox of and the global economy. Ecological Economics 55(3):309– environmentally conscious consumption. Electronic Green 320. Journal 1:23. Schor, J. 2010. Plenitude: The New Economics of Truth Wealth. Myers, N. & Kent, J. 2004. The New Consumers: The Influence of New York: Penguin. Affluence on the Environment. Washington, DC: Island Press. Seidman, L. 1997. The USA Tax: A Progressive Consumption Tax. Nash, H. 2009. The European Commission’s sustainable con- Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. sumption and production and sustainable industrial policy Speth, J. 2010. A New American Environmentalism and the New action plan. Journal of Cleaner Production 17(4):496–498. Economy. Tenth Annual John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture Naughten, B. 2010. US foreign energy policy and grand strategy on Science and the Environment. Washington, DC: National choice: global systemic crises confronting the Obama ad- Council for Science and the Environment. ministration. International Journal of Global Energy Issues Tabuchi, H. 2009. When consumers cut back: an object lesson 33(1–2):89–119. from Japan. The New York Times February 22:A1. Polimeni, J., Mayumi, K., Giampietro, M., & Alcott, B. 2008. Tukker, A., Cohen, M., Hubaeck, K., & Mont, O. 2010. The im- Jevons’ Paradox and the Myth of Resource Efficiency Im- pacts of household consumption and options for change. provements. London: Earthscan. Journal of Industrial Ecology 14(1):13–30. Princen, T. 2005. The Logic of Sufficiency. Cambridge, MA: MIT United Nations. 1992. Agenda 21: The United Nations Programme Press. of Action from Rio. New York: United Nations. Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, A., Chapin, F., van Griethuysen, P. 2010. Why are we growth-addicted? The hard Lambin, E., Lenton, T., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., way towards degrowth in the involuntary western develop- Schellnhuber, H., Nykvist, B., de Wit, C., Hughes, T., van ment path. Journal of Cleaner Production 18(6):590–595. der Leeuw, S., Rodhe, H., Sörlin, S., Snyder, P., Costanza, Vergragt, P. & Brown, H. 2007. Sustainable mobility: from tech- R., Svedin, U., Falkenmark, M., Karlberg, L., Corell, R., nological innovation to societal learning. Journal of Cleaner Fabry, V., Hansen, J., Walker, B., Liverman, D., Richardson, Production 15(11–12):1104–1115. K., Crutzen, P., & Foley, J. 2009. A safe operating space for Victor, P. 2008. Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, humanity. Nature 461(24):472–475. Not Disaster. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar. Rohracher, H. 2008. Energy systems in transition: contributions Zhao, W. & Schroeder, P. 2010. Sustainable consumption and from social sciences. International Journal of Environmental production: trends, challenges, and options for the Asia- Technology and Management 9(2–3):144–161. Pacific region. Natural Resources Forum 34(1):4–15. Røpke, I. 2009. Theories of practice: new inspiration for ecological economic studies on consumption. Ecological Economics 68(10):2490–2497. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png "Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy" Taylor & Francis

Individual consumption and systemic societal transformation: introduction to the special issue

Loading next page...
 
/lp/taylor-francis/individual-consumption-and-systemic-societal-transformation-DPf5ETSKbK

References (75)

Publisher
Taylor & Francis
Copyright
© 2010 Cohen et al.
ISSN
1548-7733
DOI
10.1080/15487733.2010.11908045
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy http://sspp.proquest.com INTRODUCTION Individual consumption and systemic societal transformation: introduction to the special issue 1 2 3,4 Maurie J. Cohen , Halina Szejnwald Brown , & Philip J. Vergragt Graduate Program in Environmental Policy Studies, New Jersey Institute of Technology, University Heights, Newark, NJ 07102 USA (email: mcohen@adm.njit.edu) Department of International Development, Community, and Environment, Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610 USA (email: hbrown@clarku.edu) Tellus Institute, 11 Arlington Street, Boston, MA 02116 USA (email: pvergragt@tellus.org) Marsh Institute, Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610 USA (email: pvergragt@clarku.edu) The social and environmental problems engen- Leonard, 2010). Life-cycle analysis, input-output dered by contemporary consumer lifestyles first re- analysis, material-flow analysis, and related tech- ceived explicit international acknowledgement at the niques have made important contributions to these 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Chapter Four efforts. In Europe and elsewhere, governments and of Agenda 21 from this event declared that “the ma- supranational organizations have drawn on these in- jor cause of the continued deterioration of the global sights to steer consumers toward preferable options, environment is the unsustainable pattern of con- using ecolabeling schemes and public education sumption and production, particularly in industri- campaigns (Boström & Klintman, 2008; Nash, 2009; alized countries, which is a matter of grave concern, Scholl et al. 2010). A few rare instances have entailed aggravating poverty and imbalances” (United suppression of demand through taxation and prohibi- Nations, 1992). This particular framing of the root tions. causes of the societal and ecological challenges con- These developments are commendable, but they fronting the world, not surprisingly, triggered a vig- amount to little more than token gestures relative to orous rebuttal in countries deemed to be most directly the 90–95% reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions responsible, even prompting the first President Bush required to achieve global targets over the next few to proclaim that “the American way of life [was] not decades (Bennett & Collins, 2009; Berg, 2010). up for negotiation” (McKibben, 2005; see also While these initiatives provide concerned individuals Cohen, 2010). with potentially helpful ways to take action, they do Nonetheless, during the subsequent two decades, not confront consumer culture and incessant political public recognition of the profound toll exacted by the pressure for consumption-driven economic growth heavy demands of affluent consumers in both devel- (Allen & Kovach, 2000; Muldoon, 2006; Autio et al. oped and developing countries has widened and 2009; see also Luke, 2005; Princen, 2005). The main deepened (Myers & Kent, 2004; Chakravarty et al. drivers of overconsumption in wealthy countries– 2009; Rockström et al. 2009; Assadourian, 2010). housing policies that incentivize large-home con- Numerous strategies have emerged to encourage the struction, transportation policies that promote subur- “greening” of consumer practices through, for exam- ban sprawl, agricultural policies that encourage un- ple, the remanufacture of obsolete goods, the eco- healthful diets, energy policies that induce profligate logical design of products, and the introduction of resource use, and financial policies that stimulate multifold varieties of ostensibly “ecofriendly” mer- permissive money management–remain outside the chandise (for recent reviews see Goleman, 2009; reach of what is generally regarded as “green con- sumption.” Furthermore, the gains from energy and It merits recalling that consumption was a key theme of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, but the prob- See Tukker et al. (2010) and the articles comprising the associated lems it posed were not explicitly conveyed in any of the event’s issue of the Journal of Industrial Ecology for a recent overview of final communications. Instead, population growth in developing this work. countries continued to serve as the pivotal concern in international An interesting development that is emerging in the United States discussions on biophysical carrying capacity throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In the United States, former President Jimmy Carter as this article is being published is that the National Commission infamously tried to initiate a public discussion on the ill-effects of on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is controversially proposing consumption, but his efforts did not have the intended effect on elimination of the lucrative mortgage-interest tax deduction, a public policy (Mattson, 2009). provision that has long been recognized as a public subsidy that © 2010 Cohen et al. Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation materials efficiency are significantly dampened by minded individuals from the surrounding area for rebound effects in the form of increased use or reallo- monthly discussions. These meetings gathered mo- cation of monetary savings to other activities mentum and members of a small founders group (Binswanger, 2001; Hertwich, 2005; Herring & Roy, formalized the network’s institutional dimensions and 2007; Polimeni et al. 2008; Hanley et al. 2009; organized an inaugural workshop in October, 2009 at Herring et al. 2009). Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Ap- In response to these circumstances, debates on proximately three-dozen researchers from the United sustainable consumption have recently begun to States and Canada attended this gathering with the move in several new directions. Some scholars are theme of “Individual Consumption and Systemic So- examining the macroeconomic and political- cietal Transformation.” This special issue of economic context of consumption (Schor, 2005; Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy contains Victor, 2008; Jackson, 2009; Cohen, 2010; Harris, several papers that were originally presented in draft 2010), the distribution of globally equitable allow- form at this conference. ances to emit greenhouse gases (McMichael et al. Lending the workshop a sense of urgency was 2007; see also Meyer, 2000), and the notion of “de- that much of the world was (and is) still reeling from growth” (Latouche, 2010; van Griethuysen, 2010). the collapse of major American and international fi- Other researchers are considering the prospects of nancial institutions and the ensuing economic dislo- transitions toward sociotechnical regimes that could cations. Among other revelations, these events enable more sustainable modes of consumption clearly exposed the connections between the global (Chappells, 2008; Rohracher, 2008), the role of financial system and the global climate system: the bounded sociotechnical experiments (Vergragt & endangerment of both systems could be attributed to Brown, 2007; Brown & Vergragt, 2008), and studies doctrinaire allegiance to neoliberal economics and of social practices (Evans & Abrahamse, 2009; unquestioned pursuit of economic growth. Transfor- Røpke, 2009; Gram-Hanssen, 2010). The recent mation toward an alternative paradigm will entail a emergence of the “new economics” as a visible field new understanding of human well-being, one that is is evidence that many of these threads are being wo- sustainable, equitable, and capable of fulfilling indi- ven together into a coherent paradigm (Boyle & vidual and societal aspirations for a “good and ethical Simms, 2009; Schor, 2010; Speth, 2010). Notably, life.” Given the intimate connections between ma- this research is beginning to fuse with a range of so- terial standards of living and generally regarded cial movement activity organized around localism, notions of human satisfaction, consideration of alter- alternative food systems, postautomobile transporta- native economic systems is inseparable from debates tion systems, and community responses to peak oil on sustainable consumption and technological (e.g., Hopkins, 2008; Hess, 2009; Dennis & Urry, change. 2009; Follett, 2009). This first SCORAI workshop furthermore ac- It is in this intellectual space that the Sustainable knowledged that, in comparison to developments Consumption Research and Action Initiative elsewhere, organized scholarly and policy debates (SCORAI) is situated. A knowledge network com- about sustainable consumption were seriously prising both academics and practitioners, SCORAI is lagging in North America. During the early- and mid- the organizational nexus for work that addresses 2000s, Europe saw a veritable explosion of activity challenges at the interface of material consumption, human fulfillment, lifestyle satisfaction, and macro- An important source of inspiration for the establishment of economic and technological change. This collabora- SCORAI was a prior European project called SCORE! (Sustain- tion began in 2008 as a modest initiative of the able Consumption Research Exchanges). Boston-based Tellus Institute to bring together like- Financial support for the inaugural SCORAI workshop was pro- vided by the ProQuest/U.S. Geological Survey Partnership, the Tellus Institute, and the following Clark University administrative units (Provost’s Office; Department of International Development, contributes to the upscaling of home size, encourages low-density Community, and Environment; Graduate School of Geography; residential patterns, and compounds socioeconomic and geo- and Graduate School of Management). A comprehensive list of graphic inequalities (Calmes, 2010; cf. Krugman, 2010a; see also workshop contributions is available at http://www.scorai. Landis & McClure, 2010). Emergent political discussions on the org/participants09.html. imposition of a national consumption tax, as well as an increase in Though authors demonstrate different postures with respect to the the federal excise tax on gasoline, further highlight that some of these issues are beginning to attract serious attention (Mankiw, contemporary economic growth paradigm, a body of literature is 2010; see also Seidman, 1997). The establishment of the Consumer developing on the common foundations of the financial and cli- Financial Protection Bureau is another example of an effort to mate crises. See, in particular, de Zoysa & Newman, 2009; Foster engage with the drivers of overconsumption. & Magdoff, 2009; Hemerijck et al. 2009; Jackson, 2009; Kallis et al. 2009; Leichenko et al. 2010; Liu & Raven, 2010; Naughten, See also the New Economics Foundation (http://www.neweco 2010; and Sampford, 2010. nomics.org) and the New Economics Institute (http://new economicsinstitute.org). Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation on this front, marked by a steady stream of publicly scientists, industrial ecologists, urban planners, mar- funded projects, conferences, journal articles, and keting and management specialists, and scholars from books in conjunction with robust interest on the part the fields of science and technology studies and tech- of policy makers who issued several national and nology innovation studies. The workshop also in- multinational sustainable consumption plans (e.g., cluded representatives from a variety of policy com- CEC, 2008; Nash, 2009; Scholl et al. 2010). It munities in the United States and Canada. The seemed as if hardly a week went by without a signifi- conference aimed to create connections across dispa- cant event on the issue in Brussels, London, Paris, or rate disciplines, to formulate a North American re- Berlin. While sustainable consumption did not attract search program around consumption and well-being, the same kinds of formal attention in Asia, the topic and to contribute to the ongoing policy dialogue did gain traction during this period among civil so- around these issues. In sum, the twenty papers pre- ciety organizations throughout the region (Hobson, sented at the workshop addressed the following 2004; de Zoysa, 2007; Zhao & Schroeder, 2010). In questions: contrast, in North America (and especially in the United States), limitless household consumption • What do studies of consumers’ responses to pol- continued to be regarded with little exception as an icy instruments and other interventions teach us altogether beneficial societal objective. Skeptics were about designing policies? What does this work marginalized and taunted for threatening to kill the tell us about active resistance to changing domi- goose that laid the golden eggs. Calls to move house- nant consumption practices? hold consumption in more sustainable directions • Can new lifestyle choices emerge around the were derided as softheaded and typically dismissed pursuit of well-being, leisure, or fun? out of hand. • What can the “make do” practices of the poor What a difference two years makes. Between the teach us about the nonmaterial means of pur- formulation of plans to convene the first SCORAI suing well-being? workshop and the appearance of this special issue we • If we are biologically predisposed to appropriate have witnessed a sea change in public sensibilities all available resources, what are the cultural and the policy landscape. There is growing recogni- framings/metaphors that institutionalize these tion among observers across the political spectrum behaviors? that lifestyles based on boundless consumer credit, • How does institutional change occur, especially status-fueled consumerism, and rampant advertising with regard to habituated and entrenched social have fallen into disrepute. Exhortations to return to practices? “the way things used to be” are losing their fervor. In • While hopeful “change the light bulb” consumer the United States and parts of Europe realization is behaviors seem to be gaining ground, they re- dawning that we may be facing a protracted future of main socially marginal and ecologically insignif- no-growth and enforced austerity and Japan’s so- icant. How can these efforts be usefully scaled called “lost decade” is looming as the likely fate of up? several affluent countries (Goodman, 2009; Kang & • Is a new social movement required to affect life- Syed, 2009; Tabuchi, 2009; Krugman, 2010b). style choices and/or to spur systemic change? Do Commentators once derided as heretics and many small initiatives facilitate or undermine so- naysayers are now prominently featured on the pages cial mobilization? of the international business press. The time is be- • Most lifestyle choices are not conscious in rela- coming ripe for new ideas. tion to big ideas such as sustainability. Is it nec- The inaugural SCORAI workshop focused on essary to raise that consciousness? Alternatively, both the socioeconomic and sociocultural dimensions is a more strategic response required to focus ac- of sustainable consumption. Attendees included soci- tivist energy on systemic changes in the ologists, anthropologists, political scientists, geogra- institutional-political-economic realm? phers, ecological economists, environmental social • Can professional elites become agents of change, or do they inevitably fall into the trap of incre- mentalism? What should be the role of non- See, for example, the Asia-Pacific Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production (http://www.aprscp.net). governmental organizations (NGOs)? Do NGOs The relatively low level of interest in sustainable consumption in need to redefine their traditional role of princi- Canada and the United States has been especially evident at the pally lobbying for government policies? governmental level. For instance, the region was the last of five • Is a “leisure-time transition” through workweek zonal groupings (Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America- reduction necessary to create a steady-state Caribbean, North America, and West Asia) to convene an experts meeting under the auspices of the Marrakech Process (see Government of Canada et al. 2009). Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation economy? What is the feasibility of such expanded our understanding of the role of resilience developments? in buffering disturbances. Hess applies this general framework to examine the relationship between One of the workshop’s most important and household resilience and sustainable consumption. tangible achievements to date has been the creation He identifies two types of resilience: economic and of a thriving network that spans a wide range of tradi- material. Strategies to improve economic resilience tional academic disciplines and comprises scholars can take the form of diversifying revenue streams and and practitioners who have come to identify them- increasing household-level economic storage through selves with the challenges of sustainable consump- savings, insurance, and education. Material resilience tion. Members of this group further find that their is pursued by investing in supplementary physical work is powerfully enriched by interaction with pol- systems like back-up generators, space heaters, and icy makers and activists engaged on these issues in other emergency equipment. These tactics can en- the field. A central goal of SCORAI is to further hance or undermine sustainable consumption pat- grow this network by launching new research terns. Hess presents expenditure data from two actual projects, evolving the group’s electronic platforms households: a single-individual household living un- for internal debate and outward communication, and der relatively modest circumstances and a relatively periodically organizing intense multiday workshops affluent household with two adults and two children. on cutting-edge ideas. These case studies shed light on which purchase de- The core of this special issue comprises five cisions consistently integrate resilience and sustain- contributions (four articles and one Community Es- ability and which put the two goals in conflict. The say) that were initially presented at the inaugural study shows how research and policy making on SCORAI workshop. The authors revised their work sustainable consumption can usefully be embedded in on the basis of extensive feedback at the event itself household financial management. Hess’s approach and in response to evaluations prepared by peer re- arguably has greater utility for ordinary consumers viewers. We are grateful to the dedication of the than more abstract metrics like kilowatt hours, eco- contributors and extend special thanks to all of the logical footprints, and carbon-dioxide equivalents. participants and referees for their insights and candor. Richard Wilk draws on the work of linguist The special issue also includes an introductory edi- George Lakoff to argue that our view of the world is torial by Erik Assadourian and nine book reviews of organized and structured through different meta- recently published titles that we hope will be of addi- phorical lenses that vary geographically, culturally, tional interest to readers. socioeconomically, and in other ways. Moreover, In the first article, William Rees reflects on the folk understandings typically deviate from expert international community’s feeble political response to appraisals. Wilk argues that consumption is generally the progressively more ominous prognosis for the interpreted in common parlance through metaphors global climate. Is it not, he asks, an indication of an like fire, eating, hunting, and gathering. The problem irrational mindset for the public to disregard the with this treatment is that we fail to distinguish warnings conveyed by these scientific appraisals? between forms of consumption that are socially and Rees seeks clues for this apparent disconnect in con- environmentally deleterious (automobile driving) and temporary research on evolutionary biology and hu- others that are rather benign (collecting antique cars). man cognition. He observes that human beings are, in In addition, seemingly nonconsumption activities– ecological terms, quintessential K-strategists (i.e., sports, political events, and investing–can involve ap- large bodied, relatively long living), with a propen- propriation of vast resources and engender consider- sity to relentlessly appropriate all available carrying able fluidity between “needs” and “wants.” Wilk capacity. In the absence of any biophysical checks, suggests that a more effective metaphor for stimulat- human communities will inexorably perpetuate their ing sustainable consumption would be a see-saw, as it own survival and reproductive success. This evolu- evokes an inherent need to morally balance virtuous tionary predisposition is reinforced by various socio- and errant consumer activities, though it is important cultural constructs such as the commitment to eco- to recognize that such lay accounting systems are nomic growth. We seem, Rees argues, to be captive unlikely to correspond to scientific assessments. He to our own biologically determined survival tactics. concludes by noting that contemporary knowledge of David Hess next considers the challenge of sus- folk models of consumption is at a very early stage of tainable consumption from the standpoint of house- development, but is a fruitful area for inquiry. hold resilience. Human ecologists, sustainability John Stutz draws on economic historian Angus scientists, and others over the past two decades have Maddison’s dataset stretching back two millennia to demonstrate that the post-World War II period of 10 “explosive growth” among the world’s affluent See http://www.scorai.org. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation countries was accompanied by a growing “spread” activity is through a tripartite framework consisting between relatively affluent and poor nations. At the of the search for alternatives to consumerism and same time, incomes are now increasing in several individualism as social organizing principles, the de- developing countries, giving rise to new consumer sign of economic models less reliant on consumer societies. Improvements in technological efficiency– spending and personal debt, and the pursuit of more even if such strategies were to be pursued equitable distributions of income and work (to enable vigorously–will not offset the resultant growth in tradeoffs of goods consumption for leisure time and energy and resource consumption. Stutz posits the community engagement). This view simultaneously need for an income transition (analogous to the recognizes that developing countries need economic familiar demographic transition) predicated on a shift and consumption growth, but these goals should be from material affluence to well-being. He then dis- mediated by “green” technology and other sustain- cusses how well-being could be enhanced through a able practices. Momentum on these issues is likely to reduction in working hours that would enable people build during preparations for the 2012 United Nations in wealthy countries to pursue more personally satis- Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) fying activities. Reductions in income would slow the and as the problems inherent in the prevailing eco- rate of economic growth in these nations and nomic growth paradigm come into sharper focus. attenuate their energy and resource consumption Within this framework, this workshop aims to while creating opportunities to achieve a more highlight the interstices among three important re- globally equitable income distribution. Stutz search approaches on sustainable consumption. First, describes efforts to lower the intensity of work on sociotechnical transitions emphasizes tech- environmental impact per unit of economic activity, nological innovation and diffusion and the coevolu- to reduce the pace of growth in output, and to tion of technologies, societal institutions, and culture, promote an income transition as constituting a “three- but is relatively silent on economic and political front war.” contexts and the nature of technology-human behav- The final core contribution to this special issue is ior interactions. Second, research on social practices a Community Essay by Tom Princen. Echoing some centers on the mutual interactions between technol- of Wilk’s themes, the commentary highlights the ogy and commonplace daily behaviors and examines central role of metaphors for talking about both sus- how more resource-intensive social practices emerge tainability and sustainable consumption. Princen ob- in response to technological innovations; however, to serves that if we are going to successfully embark on date scholars have paid less attention to the evolution a more socially and ecologically sustainable path, it of new technologies from a complex system perspec- will be necessary to construct a new set of metaphors tive or to the economic or political drivers of con- that reshape how we think. He describes how pre- sumption. Finally, studies in the political economy of vailing understanding of human-environment rela- consumption give prominence to the institutional tions is conceptualized as threats that need to be factors that shape prevailing modes of consumption, tamed and that survival is dependent on continuous but this work in the so-called “new economics” has expansion. Princen argues that we need to set aside tended to devote much less attention to the role of these dominant metaphors that regard the environ- technology. ment as a laboratory, storehouse, or battlefield. In The event seeks to forge intellectual bridges their place, it is necessary to identify and nurture across these perspectives, with the goal of enriching new, more effective and constrained lenses that are each one through novel framings, new analytic treat- based, for example, on the notion of a watershed, ments, and development of a shared language. Par- neighborhood, or spaceship. He proposes that we ticipants will integrate work from ongoing research in need not discard completely the growth metaphor, several fields, including innovation studies, sociology but we need to frame growth as a process of matura- of social practices, and ecological macroeconomics. tion and improvement, rather than limitless extension The end result will deepen the current body of and enlargement. knowledge on how consumption patterns evolve in a At the time this special issue is being published technological society and expose more clearly the (November 2010), SCORAI is actively involved in role that policy interventions, grassroots initiatives, planning its second workshop, due to be held in April small-scale experiments, social movements, and mar- 2011. As noted above, debates about the efficacy of ket actors can have in affecting changes consistent economic growth have gained new visibility in coun- with twenty-first century needs. tries of the global North over the past year, and dif- ferent approaches for pursuing personal and societal well-being have become part of research and policy agendas. One way to organize this broad range of Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation Goodman, P. 2009. Failure offers lessons Japan would rather References forget. The New York Times September 6:WK3. Government of Canada, Government of the United States, United Allen, P. & Kovach, M. 2000. The capitalist composition of or- Nations Environment Programme, and United Nations De- ganic: the potential of markets in fulfilling the promise of or- partment of Economic and Social Affairs. 2009. North ganic agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values 17(3):221– American Multi-Stakeholder Workshop on Sustainable Con- sumption and Production: Co-Chairs Summary and Work- Assadourian, E. 2010. The rise and fall of consumer cultures. In shop Report. Washington, DC: State Department. State of the World: Transforming Cultures—From Consum- Gram-Hanssen, K. 2010. Standby consumption in households erism to Sustainability. pp. 3–20. New York: W. W. Norton. analyzed with a practice theory approach. Journal of Indus- Autio, M., Heiskanen, E., & Heinonen, V. 2009. Narratives of trial Ecology 14(1):150–165. “green” consumers: the antihero, the environmental hero, and Hanley, N., McGregor, P., Swales, J., & Turner, K. 2009. Do in- the anarchist. Journal of Consumer Behavior 8(1):40–53. creases in energy efficiency improve environmental quality Bennett, J. & Collins, D. 2009. The policy implications of sustain- and sustainability? Ecological Economics 68(3):692–709. able consumption. Australasian Journal of Environmental Harris, J. 2010. The Macroeconomics of Development Without Management 16(1):47–55. Throughput Growth. Working Paper No. 10–05. Global De- Berg, A. 2010. Not roadmaps but toolboxes: analyzing pioneering velopment and Environment Institute, Tufts University. national programmes for sustainable consumption and pro- http://ase.tufts.edu/gdae. duction. Journal of Consumer Policy Online First: April 30. Hemerijck, A., B. Knapen, & E. van Doorne (Eds.). 2009. After- Binswanger, M. 2001. Technological progress and sustainable shocks: Economic Crisis and Institutional Choice. Amster- development: what about the rebound effect? Ecological dam: Amsterdam University Press. Economics 36(1):119–132. Herring, H. & Roy, R. 2007. Technological innovation, energy Boström, M. & Klintman, M. 2008. Eco-Standards, Product La- efficient design and the rebound effect. Technovation belling and Green Consumerism. New York: Palgrave Mac- 27(4):194–203. millan. Herring, H., S. Sorrell, & D. Elliot (Eds.). 2009. Energy Efficiency Boyle, D. & Simms, A. 2009. The New Economics: A Bigger and Sustainable Consumption: The Rebound Effect. North- Picture. London: Earthscan. ampton, MA: Edward Elgar. Brown, H. & Vergragt, P. 2008. Bounded socio-technical experi- Hertwich, E. 2005. Consumption and the rebound effect: an indus- ments as agents of systemic change: the case of a zero energy trial ecology perspective. Journal of Industrial Ecology 9(1– residential building. Technological Forecasting and Social 2):85–98. Change 75(1):107–130. Hess, D. 2009. Localist Movements in a Global Economy. Cam- Calmes, J. 2010. Panel seeks cuts in social security and higher bridge, MA: MIT Press. taxes. The New York Times November 11:A1. Hobson, K. 2004. Researching “sustainable consumption” in Asia- Chakravarty, S. Chikkatur, A., de Coninck, H., Pacala, S., & Pacific cities. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 45(2):279–288. Socolow, R. 2009. Sharing global CO emission reductions Hopkins, R. 2008. The Transition Handbook: From Oil Depend- among one billion high emitters. Proceedings of the National ency to Local Resilience. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Academy of Sciences 106(29):11884–11888. Green Publishing. Chappells, H. 2008. Systematically sustainable provision? The Jackson, T. 2009. Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a premises and promises of “joined-up” energy demand man- Finite Planet. London: Earthscan. agement. International Journal of Environmental Technology Kallis, G., Martinez-Alier, J., & Norgaard, R. 2009. Paper assets, and Management 9(2–3):259–275. real debts: an ecological-economic exploration of the global Cohen. M. 2010. The international political economy of economic crisis. Critical Perspectives on International Busi- (un)sustainable consumption and the global financial col- ness 5(1–2):14–25. lapse. Environmental Politics 19(1):107–126. Kang, K. & Syed, M. 2009. Overcoming the global financial crisis: Commission of the European Communities (CEC). 2008. Commu- some lessons from Japan’s “lost decade.” CESifo DICE Re- nication from the Commission to the European Parliament, port 7(3):13–20. the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee Krugman, P. 2010a. The hijacked commission. The New York and the Committee of the Regions on the Sustainable Con- Times November 12:A31. sumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy Krugman, P. 2010b. Things could be worse. The New York Times. Action Plan. Brussels: CEC. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/Lex September 9:A29. UriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2008:0397:FIN:en:PDF. Landis, J. & McClure, K. 2010. Rethinking federal housing policy. de Zoysa, R. & Newman, O. 2009. Crisis and resurgence: redefin- Journal of the American Planning Association 76(3):319– ing the United States and European Union relationship in the face of global challenges. Twenty-First Century Society Latouche, S. 2010. Farewell to Growth. Malden, MA: Polity. 4(3):297–318. Leichenko, R., O’Brien, K., Solecki, W. 2010. Climate change and de Zoysa, U. 2007. Sustainable Consumption: An Asian Review. the global financial crisis: a case of double exposure. Annals Nugegoda, Sri Lanka: Center for Environment and Develop- of the Association of American Geographers 100(4):963– ment. Dennis, K. & Urry, J. 2009. After the Car. Malden, MA: Polity. Leonard, A. 2010. The Story of Stuff. New York: Free Press. Evans, D. & Abrahamse, W. 2009. Beyond rhetoric: the possibili- Liu, J. & Raven, P. 2010. China’s environmental challenges and ties of and for “sustainable lifestyles.” Environmental Poli- implications for the world. Critical Reviews in Environmen- tics 18(4):486–502. tal Science and Technology 40(9–10):823–851. Follett, J. 2009. Choosing a food future: differentiating among Luke, T. 2005. Neither sustainable nor development: reconsidering alternative food options. Journal of Agricultural and Envi- sustainability in development. Sustainable Development ronmental Ethics 22(1):31–51. 13(4):228–238. Foster, J. & Magdoff, F. 2009. The Great Financial Crisis: Causes Mankiw. G. 2010. Much to love, and hate, in a VAT. The New and Consequences. New York: Monthly Review Press. York Times May 1:B6. Goleman, D. 2009. Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Mattson, K. 2009. “What the Heck Are You Up to, Mr. President.” Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything. New York: Bloomsbury. New York: Broadway. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2 Cohen et al.: Individual Consumption and Societal Transformation McKibben, B., 2005. Changing the climate. American Prospect Sampford, C. 2010. Re-conceiving the good life: the key to sus- September 18. http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article= tainable globalization. Australian Journal of Social Issues changing_the_climate. 45(1):13–24. McMichael, A., Powles, J., Butler, C., & Uauy, R. 2007. Food, Scholl, G., Rubik, F., Kalimo, H., Biedenkopf, K., & Söebech, T. livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. The 2010. Policies to promote sustainable consumption: innova- Lancet 370(9594):1253–1263. tive approaches in Europe. Natural Resources Forum Meyer, A. 2000. Contraction and Convergence: The Global Solu- 34(1):39–50. tion to Climate Change. Dartington, UK: Green Books. Schor, J. 2005. Prices and quantities: unsustainable consumption Muldoon, A. 2006. Where the green is: examining the paradox of and the global economy. Ecological Economics 55(3):309– environmentally conscious consumption. Electronic Green 320. Journal 1:23. Schor, J. 2010. Plenitude: The New Economics of Truth Wealth. Myers, N. & Kent, J. 2004. The New Consumers: The Influence of New York: Penguin. Affluence on the Environment. Washington, DC: Island Press. Seidman, L. 1997. The USA Tax: A Progressive Consumption Tax. Nash, H. 2009. The European Commission’s sustainable con- Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. sumption and production and sustainable industrial policy Speth, J. 2010. A New American Environmentalism and the New action plan. Journal of Cleaner Production 17(4):496–498. Economy. Tenth Annual John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture Naughten, B. 2010. US foreign energy policy and grand strategy on Science and the Environment. Washington, DC: National choice: global systemic crises confronting the Obama ad- Council for Science and the Environment. ministration. International Journal of Global Energy Issues Tabuchi, H. 2009. When consumers cut back: an object lesson 33(1–2):89–119. from Japan. The New York Times February 22:A1. Polimeni, J., Mayumi, K., Giampietro, M., & Alcott, B. 2008. Tukker, A., Cohen, M., Hubaeck, K., & Mont, O. 2010. The im- Jevons’ Paradox and the Myth of Resource Efficiency Im- pacts of household consumption and options for change. provements. London: Earthscan. Journal of Industrial Ecology 14(1):13–30. Princen, T. 2005. The Logic of Sufficiency. Cambridge, MA: MIT United Nations. 1992. Agenda 21: The United Nations Programme Press. of Action from Rio. New York: United Nations. Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, A., Chapin, F., van Griethuysen, P. 2010. Why are we growth-addicted? The hard Lambin, E., Lenton, T., Scheffer, M., Folke, C., way towards degrowth in the involuntary western develop- Schellnhuber, H., Nykvist, B., de Wit, C., Hughes, T., van ment path. Journal of Cleaner Production 18(6):590–595. der Leeuw, S., Rodhe, H., Sörlin, S., Snyder, P., Costanza, Vergragt, P. & Brown, H. 2007. Sustainable mobility: from tech- R., Svedin, U., Falkenmark, M., Karlberg, L., Corell, R., nological innovation to societal learning. Journal of Cleaner Fabry, V., Hansen, J., Walker, B., Liverman, D., Richardson, Production 15(11–12):1104–1115. K., Crutzen, P., & Foley, J. 2009. A safe operating space for Victor, P. 2008. Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, humanity. Nature 461(24):472–475. Not Disaster. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar. Rohracher, H. 2008. Energy systems in transition: contributions Zhao, W. & Schroeder, P. 2010. Sustainable consumption and from social sciences. International Journal of Environmental production: trends, challenges, and options for the Asia- Technology and Management 9(2–3):144–161. Pacific region. Natural Resources Forum 34(1):4–15. Røpke, I. 2009. Theories of practice: new inspiration for ecological economic studies on consumption. Ecological Economics 68(10):2490–2497. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy | http://sspp.proquest.com Fall 2010 | Volume 6 | Issue 2

Journal

"Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy"Taylor & Francis

Published: Oct 1, 2010

There are no references for this article.