- Mar 2023
Sustainable consumption scholars offer several explanations forwhy earth-friendly, justice-supporting consumers falter when itcomes to translating their values into meaningful impact.
- earth-friendly, justice-supporting consumers cannot translate their values into meaningful impact.
- “the shading and distancing of commerce” Princen (1997) is an effect of information assymetry.
- producers up and down a supply chain can hide the negative social and environmental impacts of their operations, putting conscientious consumers at a disadvantage. //
- this is a result of the evolution of alienation accelerated by the industrial revolution that created the dualistic abstractions of producers and consumers.
- Before that, producers and consumers lived often one and the same in small village settings
- After the Industrial Revolution, producers became manufacturers with imposing factories that were cutoff from the general population
This set the conditions for opaqueness that have plagued us ever since. //
time constraints, competing values, and everyday routines together thwart the rational intentions of well-meaning consumers (Røpke 1999)
- assigning primary responsibility for system change to individual consumers is anathema to transformative change (Maniates 2001, 2019)
This can be broken down into three broad categories of reasons:
- Rebound effects
- increases in consumption consistently thwart
effciency-driven resource savings across a wide variety of sectors (Stern 2020).
-sustainability scholars increasingly critique “effciency” both as:
- a concept (Shove 2018)
- as a form of“weak sustainable consumption governance” (Fuchs and Lorek 2005).
- Many argue that, to be successful, effciency measures must be accompanied by initiatives that limit overall levels of consumption, that is, “strong sustainable consumption governance.
- Rebound effects
The resulting focus on saving the world as a consumer, onegreen-lifestyle action at a time, blocks inspirational avenues to work-ing collectively as citizens toward the good life.
// key observation
People cannot reason and weigh every consumer decision every timethey act. Most of the hundreds of small decisions we make are basedon daily routines. We simply would not be able to function otherwise.And our routines, in turn, are strongly infuenced by their social andmaterial contexts. Time, societal norms of comfort and appropriatebehavior, and fnancial structures, all play a role here. Breaking rou-tines and practices requires far more than the provision of informationabout products and product use. It requires a change in the institu-tions and structures supporting them.
// argument against consumer sovereignty
Another is strate-gic coordination: a great many consumers must make the same productchoices at the same time, with persistence. But this requires a level ofdiligence, focus, conviction, and resistance to greenwashing that doesnot emerge spontaneously. It comes from collective action, most oftenpromoted and organized by civil society organizations.
// - indeed - coordinated collective action is what is missing here
The starkest danger of the “consumer in charge” narrative is that itdepoliticizes the challenges before us, at a time when a citizen politicsis most called for. With consumers in charge, only the softest and mostbenevolent policy interventions are required from governments, likeproviding consumers with information on the environmental and so-cial characteristics of products, and information on how to use theseproducts in a better (especially more effcient) way. For these reasons,the consumer sovereignty narrative is attractive to politicians, as itshifts responsibility away from producers, retailers, and those taskedwith regulating commercial activity
// - this, however, can be transformed through coordination. After all, it's the same principle of having enough people in consensus - one is in the economic arena, the other is in the political (voting). We can and should do both
The advent of a consumer sovereignty/individual control narrativeparallels the re-emergence, in the early 1980s, of neo-liberalism, a po-litical and social philosophy that emphasizes individual responsibilityfor larger social conditions.
// - consumer sovereignty, neoliberalism and democracy have elements in common of the individual having some form of power to determine collective decision
- Jevon's paradox
- rebound effects
- myth of technology as savior
- sustainable consumption
- Industrial Revolution and alienation
- consumer sovereignty
- attitude-behavior gap
- collective action
- myth of consumer sovereignty
- consumer and political sovereignty
- key observation
- myth of sustainable consumption
- behavior-impact gap