Sustainable Consumption needs Consumption Reduction

The transition to sustainable societies can be seen as the aim for a third great human revolution, following the agricultural and industrial revolutions (Meadows et al., 2004). The need for a change of this magnitude has continuously been emphasized by scientists, such as by the Club of Rome (Meadows et al., 1972). Yet, despite scientific efforts human induced loss of biodiversity and climate change are continuously progressing (e.g. Hughes, 2017; Karl & Trenberth, 2003; Otavo & Echeverría, 2017). One strategy of dealing with the limits of growth on a finite planet is technological innovation, in the sense of steadily optimizing the output-per-input ratio of resources ergo making production processes more efficient, or fixing damages in natural systems with artificial solutions (Meadows et al., 2004). This strategy on its own is insufficient in sustaining the Paris Agreement (UNFCC, 2015) of a temperature-rise of well below 2°C from pre-industrial levels (Alfredsson et al., 2018). Arguably, efficiency can only be effective when complemented by a fundamental value shift and consequently the adoption of Sufficiency strategies (Schäpke & Rauschmayer, 2014). Complementing efficiency, the concept Sufficiency represents a counterpart to the efficiency strategy (Alcott, 2008). Sufficiency indicates that changes in human consumption behavior must accompany relevant technological innovations, or, put differently, change must occur on the demand-side as well as the production side.

At the core of Sufficiency lies the notion of “enoughness” (Princen, 2005, p. 18) resulting in neither over, nor underconsumption (Gossen et al., 2019), thusly preventing a state of “too-muchness” (Princen, 2005) as well as a state of having too little. Sufficiency can mean reducing absolute amounts consumed, modally shifting consumption patterns, or accessing goods though sharing practices (Sandberg, 2021).

Sufficiency-lifestyles are important for climate change mitigation (Kropfeld et al., 2018; Vita et al., 2019), yet data on the concept is scarce with many aspects under-researched and questions unanswered (e.g. Fischer & Grießhammer, 2013) and theoretical work is scattered across fields. Some overview over the body of knowledge has recently been provided by Sandberg (Sandberg, 2021), yet an overview with focus on individual behavior and barriers/motivators is lacking. This notion expresses motivation and aims of my doctoral project.

Theoretical Background - Crucial Actors and Constructs

The implementation of sufficiency policies relies strongly upon the demand and acceptance of consumers concerning this issue. Hence, motives that influence consumers perception, attitudes, values and behavior on the issue of sufficiency are essential to be researched and represent the core of my research. There are a set of lifestyles that share some characteristics with Sufficiency, like Minimalism, Voluntary Simplicity, Anti-Consumption, Frugality and Downshifting. Research on Sufficiency lifestyles is scarce but can be informed by research concerning these close-by concepts. One popular tool, with which behavior change can be evoked is Communication. Since knowledge/fact-based communication isn’t effective enough for changing environmentally harmful behavior, i.e. the Knowledge-Behavior Gap, other tools for communication, i.e. framing, must be considered to foster Sufficiency behavior. Based on cognitive sciences it is proven that language-based frames activate mental images in a selective way – emphasizing certain images and neglecting others (Wehling, 2018), and can be described as shaping perceptions by strategically highlighting gains/losses of behaviors (Rothman & Salovey, 1997) via language. Environmental loss-framed communication (emphasizing negative impacts of climate change versus positive impacts of climate change mitigation) brings along more negative emotions compared to environmental gain frames (Tomaselli et al., 2021). Many factors interact with frames, like context, individual characteristics of recipient, sociodemographic factors, strength and features of the message itself (Tomaselli et al., 2021). This poses a major challenge on the aim of my doctoral project, trying to develop gain frames to make Sufficiency behavior mainstream. Yet, (political and advertisement) framing has made consumerism mainstream, why should the opposite – Sufficiency lifestyles – not become mainstream?

The depicted research intends to inform and guide policy concerning the communication and framing of Sufficiency consumption behaviors in western societies in general, and in Austria in specific. This doctoral project is of interdisciplinary nature, including the fields Marketing, Psychology, Communication-Science, Political science, Business and Economical science, the Sustainability-Science and Sociology. 

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