Role of Formal and Informal Forces in Shaping Consumption and Implications for a Sustainable Society. Part I

[tweetmeme]   Oksana Mont (Lund University), and Kate Power (Copenhagen Resource Institute) have written an outstanding two-part paper on sustainable consumption.  Part II will also be highlighted here when it becomes available.  The introduction to part I of this excellent work reads:

Addressing climate change and the collapse of ecosystems without threatening the economy, while simultaneously improving the well-being of all people and ensuring social justice and equality, seems to be the largest challenge in the history of mankind. So far, all the efforts to address growing environmental and human problems through technological solutions and policy measures have been largely outpaced by growing population and increasing consumption levels. Therefore, an understanding of the essential driving forces and complexities of consumption, and of how environmental impacts from rising consumption can be reduced, is becoming increasingly important. This understanding can be achieved by analyzing not only economic frameworks, political settings, business models, and technological innovations, but also social norms, psychological factors, and collective and individual decision-making processes. This article, Part I, provides a meta-analysis of the main political, economic, technological, and business drivers of contemporary consumption and offers a systematic discussion of the relevance of these factors for the instigation of change towards sustainable patterns and levels of consumption. The main conclusion from Part I and II is that a systems-thinking approach is required in order to understand how various political, technical, social, economic, and psychological drivers overlap and influence each other in creating our consumer society.

It is becoming increasingly clear that consumption patterns and levels are as responsible for the deteriorating state of the environment as production patterns. Until recently, environmental debates have mainly focused on improving the efficiency of production processes and products. However, many studies now demonstrate the significant contribution of consumption to the overall environmental impact of our society. Therefore, addressing the environmental consequences of our daily purchasing choices and of macro-level consumption patterns is becoming an important focal point of research and societal efforts. However, before engaging in the discourse on possible strategies for reducing environmental impacts, it is important to understand the reasons behind the current consumption patterns and levels, the main drivers for consumption, and the main barriers for people and various actors in society to shift towards more sustainable consumption patterns and levels.

The main goal of this paper is to map out, from a multi-disciplinary perspective, the most critical factors that have influenced and shaped contemporary consumption patterns and levels. The secondary goal is to understand how the knowledge of factors shaping consumption can be useful for discussing strategies for achieving sustainable consumption.

Part I of the paper analyzes formal institutional factors, which are seen as influencing consumption from economic, political, technological innovation, and business perspectives, and their implications for the discourse on sustainable consumption. Part II of the paper analyzes the social and psychological factors that shape the consumption patterns of individuals and groups.

Read the full paper in PDF format by clicking here.

Citation: Mont, O.;Power, K. The Role of Formal and Informal Forces in Shaping Consumption and Implications for a Sustainable Society. Part I. Sustainability 2010, 2, 2232-2252.

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