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Individual Paper: Sufficiency as sustainable consumption

Not one strategy: sustainable consumption policy must respond to different motivations

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The purpose of this paper is to support strategy discussions on strong or substantially sustainable consumption by first distinguishing the different motives for consumption which require different strategies to be turned sustainable.
In a second step I assess the causes for the different motivations to be endemic, and argue that they will not be overcome without major social and economic policy changes, and changes in value patterns: sustainable consumption policy will fail unless embedded into a Great Transformation towards sustainable societies. Concepts of a good life will play a major role when defining the transformation trajectory, but will not be sufficient as they are either too abstract to guide concrete strategy formulation across the board of policy domains, or they are too narrowly focussed on leisure, consumption and individual behaviour and need to be complemented by concepts of good work and a fair economy, including issues of trade and peace. Social security including a physical basic supply and changed price structures would be one element of a sustainability transition.
However, some of the consumption motives identified can be seamlessly integrated into a sufficiency strategy which emphasises the necessity of political framework setting to give progress (technical and social innovations, and human orientations) a sustainable direction, first by declaring the orientation towards ever more, faster and higher to be obsolete and offering an alternative of “enoughness”. Key here is to reclaim and refashion a new and desirable form of 'progress' away from endless orthodox economic growth and endless consumption and accumulation. Economically speaking, this requires policy reorientation from the maximum (of growth, consumption, power, …) towards an optimum which balances values and sets limits.
Taking a closer look at the definition of human needs, we distinguish the finite set of needs from the unlimited list of (potential) wants, and argue that sustainable consumption does not mean ignoring human needs, to the contrary, but choosing sustainable satisfiers to these needs. Many of these will be social achievements and not products and services traded on markets, but what is traded needs to be reshaped as well – this is the domain of Design for Sustainability DfS. It goes beyond ecological design by emphasising the social and institutional dimensions of sustainability.
This includes revisiting the way strong sustainable consumption has been advertised: as in the current commercialised societies there is hardly a space and an opportunity to lead a sustainable, for instance a low-carbon life style, I advocate to pursue the issue as a question of the right to self-determination, the right of citizens in their communities and towns to have places of self-determined non-consumption (or consumption of non-market goods and services), in zones free of advertising and commerce.
In the conclusions, the paper returns to the different consumption motives and discusses which of the strategy elements mentions can be mobilised to address them, and integrate them into a sufficiency transformation towards strong sustainability.


Day: 2018-08-24
Start time: 11:30
Duration: 00:15
Room: Moriskan (Bistron)
Track: Politics of Degrowth



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