Exploring complex social drivers of (un)sustainable consumption

Rising consumption and the increasing resource intensity of daily living practices are key drivers of environmental change. As a result, individual consumption and the promotion of positive pro-environmental behaviour change have become a key area of attention in European and Irish sustainable development policy. In finding ways in which environmental transitions can be achieved through the prevailing neo-liberal framework, the predominant approaches taken by some western governments to ‘nudge’ individuals towards more pro-environmental behaviour have focused largely on market-led initiatives. However, increasing evidence is revealing that these measures are not bringing about necessary changes in behaviour with consumption continuing to rise. It is clear that cognitive–psychological insights that emphasis consumer choice and individual deliberation are limited, highlighting a need for greater understanding of complex social drivers of consumption. In response to these gaps, this research advances a contextual approach to explore how individuals’ everyday consumption practice is shaped by processes of social and technical change. Departing from concepts and methods characteristic of dominant consumer research, a contextual geographical, qualitative and biographic approach is employed to investigate how individuals’ consumption practices evolve over their lives in the context of a changing Irish society.

Download the full policy brief