The social shaping of household consumption

This paper deals with a recurrent theme in the sustainability debate: the necessity of changing Western consumption patterns and ‘lifestyles’. Unlike most accounts, in which the principle mechanisms for ensuring this are ‘top-down’ approaches of government policies, this paper focuses on the ‘bottom-up’ approaches of citizens seeking to develop less environmentally damaging technologies and ways of living. The paper examines three Scandinavian examples to illustrate how citizens are voluntarily seeking to internalise some of the externalities of everyday life and provide the collective good of improved environmental quality. The paper discusses the importance of social relations in the shaping of people’s preferences for environmental goods. The paper draws out what lessons can be learned from these initiatives and focuses on three factors affecting the future growth and proliferation of citizen-led initiatives: upscaling, the transferability of social experiments and the pervasive societal commitments to unsustainable behaviour.

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