New Book Provides Insights for Sustainable Consumption in the Modern World

Posted on: 30 June 2014

Geographers from Trinity College Dublin have released a new book focused on providing solutions to the many sustainable consumption issues that face us all in the modern world. The book – Challenging Consumption: Pathways to a more sustainable future – was launched by Dara Lynott, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, at a ceremony at the Centre for Creative Practices in Dublin.

Structured into four complementary sections, the book travels through sustainable consumption research, policy and governance, before presenting substantive sections on ‘Moving’, ‘Dwelling’ and ‘Futures’. ‘Moving’ examines transport, mobility and the consumption of distance, while ‘Dwelling considers the intertwined social practices of washing, heating and eating in the home. ‘Futures’ then outlines key requirements for the progression of promising consumption practices so that they move from their current niches into the mainstream.

The authors, who include CONSENSUS team members from the National University of Ireland, Galway along with Professor Anna Davies, Dr Laura Devaney and Dr Ruth Doyle of Trinity College’s Geography Department, call for a reconsideration of how consumption is understood, researched and governed. They hope to leave behind narrowly conceived and often abstracted concerns with the attitudes, behaviours and choices of individual consumers, and instead focus on the broader context that underpins the way people live.

Speaking at the launch event, Dara Lynott said: “This is a knowledge base that policymakers do not have, and what this research helps to do is to avoid the pitfalls that government, policymakers and practitioners make and that is: ‘we spent a lot of money on consultancy, we do an ad campaign, we tell people what they should and shouldn’t do and we assume behaviour will change.’ And what Anna and her team have proved is that that just doesn’t work – it needs to be a lot more nuanced.”

“In this book, they’ve hit the three or four key challenges of our time, I think that this is really good … it’ll stop the same mistakes being made by policymakers in the future. And hopefully other legions of graduates, postgraduates and undergraduates will get to study this book and learn from it.”

Professor Davies said: “We are delighted with our contribution to the important debates surrounding the need to make consumption more sustainable, both locally within Ireland and internationally. While Challenging Consumption confirms the unsustainability of current practices, we also identify innovations within industry, business, civil society and even policy emerging from what we call ‘spaces of hope’ for more sustainable futures.”

She added: “A key element of our findings is that consumption does not take place in a vacuum, but instead it is shaped by wider social norms, technologies, rules and understandings. We argue it is only with extended and co-ordinated processes of collaborative co-design (that is public, private and civil society sectors working creatively together with citizens) that innovations explicitly focused on achieving sustainability outcomes will become commonplace. Such co-design will require new forms of trans-disciplinary engagement and more innovative systems of governance that provide spaces for interaction between regulators, producers and consumers.”

Anna Davies is Professor of Geography at Trinity College Dublin, Director of the Environmental Governance Research Group, and Principal Investigator of the CONSENSUS team.

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