THE CORE OF A SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY – EXPLORING SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION

NAME OF KAN: Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production

This session explores how a transformational shift to sustainable consumption patterns and lifestyles, underpinned by effective public policies, could be made politically viable. The need for such a shift has been recognised at the highest international level, and many governments have taken steps to encourage consumption patterns that are better aligned with sustainability. Consumption, and its role in sustainable development, has also attracted growing interest from researchers, resulting in an expanding and increasingly diverse body of knowledge. Yet, overall trends in resource consumption, climate impacts and biodiversity loss are still in the wrong direction. And while extreme poverty has declined globally, income disparity and unequal opportunities to consume is growing in many countries. The long-standing efforts to make sustainable consumption a reality have been insufficient and ineffective. The conventional approach to sustainable consumption tends to focus on purchasing decisions of individuals. Educated and informed consumers are expected to make rational and ethical purchasing decisions, considering benefits for themselves as well as impacts on the wider society. It is also commonly assumed that enhanced efficiency can lead to sustainable outcomes without any need to address overall volumes of consumption. This approach is politically palatable since it does not suppress consumption throughput and is commonly accepted by the business community. However, there is growing recognition of the shortcomings this approach, which ignores the collective nature of many of the decisions that shape people’s ways of living and consuming. There is thus a need for alternative strategies addressing a wider array of factors that shape people’s lifestyles and preferences, but such approaches are often seen as more difficult to “sell” politically. Given the crucial role of consumption in achieving the SDGs it is now an urgent task to devise strategies for building political support for more effective public policies related to this objective.

The session consists of two closely related parts. The first part, titled “The evolving field of sustainable consumption research”, provides an overview of the research field and some of the current issues of debate, explains the significance of sustainable consumption for the achievement of the SDGs, and outlines ongoing and planned activities of the KAN-SSCP. The second part, with the title “Making a shift to sustainable living and consuming politically viable”, is a moderated panel discussion among three researchers and practitioners with long experience in engaging with the policy community on issues related to consumption and sustainability.