On April 08, 2014, I snapped at the chance to attended a talk by Dr. Sylvia Lorek, titled “Strong Sustainable Consumption – Governing Levels and Patterns of Consumption?”.
In the following, I will try to summarize the main take-outs of the talk:
22 years after the Agenda 21 and 20 years after the Oslo Symposium on Sustainable Consumption, we are still far from following the path of sustainable development. Current sustainable consumption policies focus on environmental (rather than social) aspects of sustainability, on technical innovations (e.g. improved energy-/resource-efficiency) and market-based solutions (e.g. increased market-share of eco-friendly products) and insist on economic growth as pre-condition of a “better life”.
But, according to Sylvia Lorek, this is simply not enough to “meet the dimension and the urgency of the problem.”
In order to back up this assumption, Dr. Lorek introduced the IPAT formula:
I (↓) = P(↑) * A (↑) * T (?)
Impact on the environment = Population * Affluence * Technology
If we want to reduce the environmental impact of a growing and more and more affluent world population, the technological efficiency gains have to overcompensate population and economic growth rates. At the moment, this seems pretty unlikely, especially because efficiency gains are often reduced by rebound effects (e.g. more products are bought due to a reduced price) and outbalanced by the stimulation of further economic growth (e.g. due to the transition to renewable energies).
This means that weak sustainable consumption aka green growth is based on the overly optimistic hope for future technological progress.
By contrast, strong sustainable consumption aka de-growth
- aims for absolute reductions of resource consumption,
- questions the paradigm of unlimited growth (on a finite planet),
- assigns priority to well-being and prosperity (‘good life’) rather than to affluence and material consumption (‘better life’)
- demands for a re-allocation of resources from the better-offs to the have-nots,
- requires social (bottom-up) and societal innovations (top-down)
Overall, I found the Lucheon at the Ecologic Institute very enriching: Not only the general interest in my market research background was very encouraging to me, but also it was very insightful to follow the later discussion between the experienced and also pretty disillusioned “old stagers” and the ambitious and enthusiastic young researchers of the Ecologic Institute. And I feel, I am somewhere in between, somehow. 😉
For further reading: Sylvia Lorek & Joachim Spangenberg: “Sustainable Consumption within a Sustainable Economy – debunking buzzwords to develop the content” // Global Research Forum on Sustainable Consumption and Production Workshop, June 13-15, 2012, Rio de Janiero, Brazil (pdf)