Reducing Consumption Levels
Where can households make a difference to reduce the environmental aspect of their every day life? How can the external factors shaping consumption decisions set supportive incentives? To which extend does consumption contribute to our happiness and societal wellbeing? These are the questions SERI deals with in its sustainable consumption research.
Our daily experience as well as global conferences point out that sustainability will not be achieved without shifts towards more sustainable consumption patterns. But how do they look? And what to do to achieve them?
Quite some efforts have been made concerning the environmental aspect of sustainable consumption, analysing the main environmental impacts, the driving forces behind and the potential influence of consumers. But this is only a first step.
Consumption Corridors Consumption Corridors explores how to enhance peoples’ chances to live a good life in a world of ecological and social limits. SERI contributed to developing the concept and is actively engaged in spreading the message that sustainable consumption patterns which deserve their name need to respect lower as well as upper levels of consumption.
Consumption Corridors: Living a Good Life within Sustainable Limits (Book)
Website with updated overview
Advancing the concept of Consumption Corridors and exploring its implications (special issue)
Consumption Corridors in the horizon scan for ten new insights in climate science 2021
Sufficiency is perceived in different ways throughout the sustainability discourse. It reflects on limits (maximum consumption) to oppose or complement strategies of efficiency. It is understood as distributive justice in development and justice discourses. In an NGO/Civil Society context it mainly highlights a focus on human, socio-cultural and psychological needs to contradict approaches of ‘faster, higher, further’. SERI fellows broadly contributed to the research on sufficiency and are active in the International Network for Sufficiency Research & Policy ENOUGH.
Most policy approaches for meeting climate targets rely on the hope for new technologies – such as negative emissions technologies – and on changes in production. This often underestimates the contributions of lifestyle changes. The 1.5-degree lifestyles work fills a gap in the existing research by establishing global targets for lifestyle carbon footprints, examining current consumption patterns and their impacts on footprints, and evaluating potential reduction impacts of low-carbon lifestyle options.
SERI fellows play a core role in the development and promotion of the approach
Specific contribution by SERI
SERI research distinguish between weak and strong sustainable consumption. While the weak form tend to focus on how to best sell eco-efficient products strong sustainalbe consumption takes into account the challenge of the broad issue of sustainable consumption. As a matter of principle, sustainable consumption needs to be sustainable in all four dimensions of sustainability. It should be environmentally sound but also socially just, economically efficient and enhancing institutional equity. Thus SERI deals with the different consumption areas where households can make a difference, analyses past and future trends, develops orientation for the actors along the product chain and investigates the global structures shaping modern consumption opportunities. Additionally the SERI approaches explicitly reach out beyond the dominating efficiency approaches: Moving towards sustainable consumption will - of course - require an increase in the efficiency of consumption, via technological improvements in production processes or efficiency friendly design. However, achievements based on efficiency alone are very often overcompensated by a growth in consumption volumes, not least due to the so-called rebound effect. Thus also changes in consumption patterns and reductions in consumption levels in industrialized countries are needed, and their potential emergence is a part of the SERI analytical work. SERI is committed to individual and societal wellbeing and happiness and asks which kind and amount of physical throughput is useful and necessary to enhance it.
In investigating strategies for sustainable consumption, SERI follows an actors' oriented approach, including an analysis of the current roles and necessary contributions of all stakeholders needed for an effective transition towards sustainable consumption. For instance, following a backcasting approach, the following stakeholders have been identified and their potential contributions been analysed:
- politicians on all levels: global, regional, national and local as well as
- stakeholders along the product chain: designer, producer, retailer, consumer, service provider and the "end of product life" management
- decision makers in media, culture and education