Debunking Weak Sustainable Consumption : Towards Strong Sustainable Consumption Governance

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Title: Debunking Weak Sustainable Consumption : Towards Strong Sustainable Consumption Governance
Author: Lorek, Sylvia
Contributor organization: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, Department of Economics and Management, Consumer Economics
Helsingin yliopisto, maatalous-metsätieteellinen tiedekunta, taloustieteen laitos
Helsingfors universitet, agrikultur-forstvetenskapliga fakulteten, institutionen för ekonomi
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2009-12-11
Language: eng
Thesis level: Doctoral dissertation (article-based)
Abstract: Achieving sustainable consumption patterns is a crucial step on the way towards sustainability. The scientific knowledge used to decide which priorities to set and how to enforce them has to converge with societal, political, and economic initiatives on various levels: from individual household decision-making to agreements and commitments in global policy processes. The aim of this thesis is to draw a comprehensive and systematic picture of sustainable consumption and to do this it develops the concept of Strong Sustainable Consumption Governance. In this concept, consumption is understood as resource consumption. This includes consumption by industries, public consumption, and household consumption. Next to the availability of resources (including the available sink capacity of the ecosystem) and their use and distribution among the Earth’s population, the thesis also considers their contribution to human well-being. This implies giving specific attention to the levels and patterns of consumption. Methods: The thesis introduces the terminology and various concepts of Sustainable Consumption and of Governance. It briefly elaborates on the methodology of Critical Realism and its potential for analysing Sustainable Consumption. It describes the various methods on which the research is based and sets out the political implications a governance approach towards Strong Sustainable Consumption may have. Two models are developed: one for the assessment of the environmental relevance of consumption activities, another to identify the influences of globalisation on the determinants of consumption opportunities. Results: One of the major challenges for Strong Sustainable Consumption is that it is not in line with the current political mainstream: that is, the belief that economic growth can cure all our problems. So, the proponents have to battle against a strong headwind. Their motivation however is the conviction that there is no alternative. Efforts have to be taken on multiple levels by multiple actors. And all of them are needed as they constitute the individual strings that together make up the rope. However, everyone must ensure that they are pulling in the same direction. It might be useful to apply a carrot and stick strategy to stimulate public debate. The stick in this case is to create a sense of urgency. The carrot would be to articulate better the message to the public that a shrinking of the economy is not as much of a disaster as mainstream economics tends to suggest. In parallel to this it is necessary to demand that governments take responsibility for governance. The dominant strategy is still information provision. But there is ample evidence that hard policies like regulatory instruments and economic instruments are most effective. As for Civil Society Organizations it is recommended that they overcome the habit of promoting Sustainable (in fact green) Consumption by using marketing strategies and instead foster public debate in values and well-being. This includes appreciating the potential of social innovation. A countless number of such initiatives are on the way but their potential is still insufficiently explored. Beyond the question of how to multiply such approaches, it is also necessary to establish political macro structures to foster them.Global Warming and overfishing of the oceans, competing demands on land use for food or bio fuel, the peak in oil production, and global equity on sharing the world's resources; there are many urgent reasons for us seriously to consider our lifestyles and the environmental burden they are causing. But where to start? And what is the best way to induce changes? As good, enthusiastic, and engaged consumers we can do a lot, from travelling less in private cars, installing better insulation and more efficient heating in our homes to consuming less meat and dairy products. But how flexible are we in our daily decision making when faced as we are with the constant mantra of the global economy to consume more and more? This thesis analyses the changes that are needed and the very real pitfalls on the path to making substantial changes. It points out that the confidence that the sum of small decisions at the super markets will make a difference eventually is as risky as solely relying on technological solutions. Instead serious efforts are needed. The first – and may be the most important for the time being – is to realize the urgency of the problem. The second is to realize that a reduction in the level of consumption does not necessarily mean a reduction in the quality of life. How smoothly these unavoidable changes take place depends on how quickly and effectively governments take up their responsibility for shaping the conditions for more sustainable lifestyles. Civil Society Organizations in turn should overcome the habit of promoting Sustainable Consumption by using marketing strategies and should instead foster public debate in values and well-being.
Subject: taloustiede
Rights: Julkaisu on tekijänoikeussäännösten alainen. Teosta voi lukea ja tulostaa henkilökohtaista käyttöä varten. Käyttö kaupallisiin tarkoituksiin on kielletty.

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