Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Conceptualizing Sustainable Consumption: Toward an Integrative Framework

Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Conceptualizing Sustainable Consumption: Toward an Integrative Framework

Article excerpt

Introduction

Consumption is not only regarded as a key driver of environmental change (The Royal Society, 2012; WWF, 2012) it is also a central domain of social inequalities (de Zoysa, 2011; UNDP, 2011). In response to these challenges, consumption has become important in the emerging field of sustainability science (Kates et al. 2001; Brown, 2012). In a declaration from 2005, more than 100 scholars acknowledged "an implementation gap" (Tukker et al. 2006) and suggested that research should "put more emphasis on the contextual and causal influences of consumer behavior," develop a better understanding of how behavior affects the environment, and relate it to ideas of a good life. Furthermore, the declaration called upon research to be focused more rigorously on narrowing the implementation gap through studies and experiments that could "reveal how to empower self-interested people to pursue more sustainable livelihoods." In other words, studies are needed on how and why consumers behave as they do, how consumption acts could be changed toward sustainability, why people very often resist change, how consumption's impacts can be assessed, and how concepts of the good life can be linked with consumption. This is a broad range of questions that science has been called upon to answer. It goes without saying that no research project can cover all these facets at the same time and in an appropriate manner and that no single discipline can deal with all of them. Accordingly, research on sustainable consumption is a highly interdisciplinary endeavor, and recent years have seen a growing interest in taking stock of the diverse body of work in the field.

In our opinion, the ongoing scientific debates still lack initiatives to provide a comprehensive conceptualization of sustainable consumption (as an object of research) that can bring together the different facets just mentioned. To facilitate collaborative knowledge production, such a conceptualization should aim at delivering a coherent reference framework serving, first, to locate and, second, not simply to enumerate, but rather correlate research questions, theories, and findings from different scientific disciplines with the aim of developing comprehensive answers about what sustainable consumption is and how it can be achieved.

To facilitate interdisciplinary research--and also transdisciplinary debates among science, policy, and practice--such a conceptualization should itself be the result of interdisciplinary research, so as to allow different disciplines to connect to and, subsequently, relate their findings. In other words, what is needed is integration, understood as a process that seeks to systematically frame the problem by incorporating diverse disciplinary perspectives (Defila & Di Giulio, 2010). To this end, an interdisciplinary approach to problem framing has 1) to make visible disciplinary perspectives and 2) to link them. Both can best be achieved by means of answering seemingly simple but fundamental questions. With regard to sustainable consumption, we explored the following questions: How can the variety of elements making up the phenomenon of sustainable consumption according to different disciplinary approaches be related to each other? How can the different types of disciplinary analysis be brought together in such a way that justice can be done to each of them? What are the conducing and inhibiting factors of transformation toward sustainable consumption according to different disciplinary approaches and how can they be related to each other?

We have embarked on such an endeavor, and this article presents some key elements of the reference framework we developed to conceptualize sustainable consumption comprehensively. During our interdisciplinary work, this conceptualization proved useful, helping to locate research questions as well as concepts, theories, and findings within a scientific but not specifically disciplinary framework, and providing a scientific but not specifically disciplinary terminology that researchers from diverse disciplines were able to refer to. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.