Transformation Beyond Consumerism

Sustainability at the global scale requires transformation beyond contemporary notions of consumerism and the design and diffusion of post-consumerist lifestyles. The proposed SDG Lab is conceived to support SDG #12 Responsible Consumption and Production and seeks to identify through a collaborative and co-designed process a program of research and engagement centered on incipient elements of new lifestyle preferences and priorities in several countries of the global North and South (current institutional arrangements focus on Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Indonesia, and the United States–though this may expand over time). The SDG Lab is meant to facilitate discussions that begin to better understand how incipient practices are developing in different locales into increasingly coherent alternative lifestyles that are adapted to conditions of significantly lower energy and material throughput.


Describe the co-design process and the intended participants. What sectors or groups do they represent and why are they invited?

The proposed SDG Lab would be part of an already scheduled workshop convened by the Future Earth Knowledge-Action Network on Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production that is due to be held on May 3-5, 2017 at the National Socio-environmental Synthesis Center at the University of Maryland (located in Annapolis, Maryland, USA). This event will bring together an international group of approximately 30 researchers, NGO representatives, government representatives, and Future Earth staff. Requested funding would enable the workshop organizers to recruit several additional participants with the aim being to target two or three invitees from municipal governments in North America and another NGO representative and younger researcher from the global South.


Describe the facilitation of the process.

The overall workshop will involve both plenary sessions and smaller working group meetings. The working groups are already up and operating and focus on four different thematic foci (ecological macroeconomics and political economy of a transition to sustainable lifestyles,  urban provisioning systems and well-being, social change beyond consumerism, and communications and outreach). The working groups will continue to hold monthly preparatory conference calls over the next few months to establish a detailed work program to be pursued at the workshop. The governance structure of the Knowledge-Action Network includes a Steering Committee, a Development Team (overarching governance structure), and the four working groups. Each working group is led by two co-chairs and these individuals will have responsibility for facilitating the SDG Lab over the course of the three-day workshop in May.


What are the potential innovations/prototypes and impact of these?

The proposed SDG Lab is emblematic of growing interest around the notion of post-consumerism. On one hand, increasing attention being devoted to post-consumerism (though this specific term is not necessarily deployed) reflects recognition of the challenges of secular stagnation (reduced consumer demand due to income inequality and other economic and cultural factors in a growing number of countries). On the other hand, it highlights more normative commitments to achieve absolute reductions in energy and material throughput that stem from public and scientific concern about climate change, resource scarcity, biodiversity loss, and so forth. This situation is giving rise to multifarious social innovations as individuals and communities seek to experiment with new lifestyle practices prompted by a complementary emphasis on efficiency and sufficiency. The SDG lab will begin a process of seeking to understand these developments and through such a process give greater exposure to these novel routines.


New Jersey Institute of Technology / Future Earth Knowledge-Action Group on Sustainable Consumption and Production
National Socio-environmental Synthesis Center in Annapolis, Maryland, USA.