Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Consumption Governance toward More Sustainable Consumption

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Consumption Governance toward More Sustainable Consumption

Article excerpt

In 2015, the United Nations (2015) agreed on an agenda for future world development with the Sustainable Development goals to be achieved by 2030; Goal 12 is Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. In the areas of water, energy, and food, consumers and businesses are asked to make a significant contribution toward more sustainable development, achieving environmental and social impact. The UN has set particular targets focusing on the reduction of (food) waste, making more efficient use of natural resources, and promoting more sustainable tourism, to name a few (United Nations, 2015). A variety of strategies can be deployed to meet these targets. Sometimes these strategies are conflicting. Supporting research is at times contradictory on which ways to push forward. In this article, we suggest a mix of appropriate measures we believe to be most effective. We do so by critiquing approaches that focus too much on individual consumer behavior and by proposing a praxeological approach that is more useful because of its underlying collective dimensions of sustainable consumption. Moreover, we demonstrate how collective dimensions are supported by social movements through consumption and lifestyle politics in order to support efficient agents of change. Family and consumer sciences professionals and researchers can contribute in their various fields of activities to meeting sustainable development targets by supporting these collective dimensions of sustainable consumption.

Individualistic Perspective on Sustainable Consumption Policies

In debates about sustainable development in general and about sustainable consumption in particular, individual consumer behavior often takes center stage. Debates on how to promote more sustainable consumption focus on individual consumer choice. Following this perspective, the way to promote sustainable consumption is via market interventions and changing the behavior of individual consumers. These individualist approaches are valuable and certainly contribute to gaining specific insights about consumer market behavior. Nevertheless, these approaches might not be sufficient to explain consumption as a social phenomenon and its resulting consequences for the social, environmental, or economic spheres outlined by the sustainable development goals. To meet the sustainable production and consumption goal, state governments are asked to implement programs; however, they often focus only on market interventions. Examples of such market interventions are the regulation of unfair contracts, labeling schemes, and competition policies. In this way, public policies programmatically aim at meeting the sustainable development targets. Indeed, a variety of policy instruments attempt to move consumption (see DubuissonQuellier, 2016) toward more sustainable ends.

A majority of political debates about sustainable consumption focus on and adopt an economic or psychological approach toward individual consumer behavior. Following this approach, consumption is reduced to a series of individual choices that can be rationalized and reoriented with different instruments. Governing consumption then is oriented toward individual acts of shopping by identifying and making these more desirable, less costly, and more convenient options that are more in line with collective objectives of the sustainable development goal. In this perspective, social actors are considered as both responsible and free individuals. The problem with such a paradigm is that it ignores the collective dimensions that drive consumption practices. Moreover, such individualist approaches emphasize an implicit approach promoting the individual consumers' agency; it assumes the consumer possesses a willingness to change and, hence, will act deliberately to achieve more sustainable consumption (Shove, 2010; Welch, 2016).

From an individualistic perspective, policymaking then sets the conditions for more sustainable and responsible individual behavior. …

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