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Sustainable Consumption During Times of Crisis. SCORAI Europe Workshop Proceedings: First Trans-Atlantic SCORAI Workshop, May 1, 2012, Bregenz, Austria. Sustainable Consumption Transitions Series, Issue 1.

Social and solidarity based economy, what opportunities for sustainable consumption in times of crisis and beyond? Marlyne Sahakian, pp.190-206

Sylvia Lorek, Julia Backhaus, May 2012

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Summary :

throughputs. At the same time, public policies, commercial inducements, and global media images continue to vigorously promote resource-intensive consumption practices. Meaningful transitions toward sustainable consumption require confronting existing consumerist culture and consumer models and formulating long-term visions based on systemic transformation.

The challenges and opportunities presented by crisis

Recurrent financial and ecological crises have triggered extraordinary responses from national and transnational governments, multilateral organizations, and central banks. However, it is questionable if and how much these events have instigated new public awareness about the systemic interconnections among growing resource scarcities, widening income disparities, increasing unemployment, pervasive institutional failure, and others. The current wave of instability prompts numerous questions about prevalent consumption patterns in affluent countries and holds challenges and opportunities for scholars and practitioners seeking to envisage more sustainable pathways.

Across much of Europe, austerity policies are prompting reductions in household consumption by, for example, cutting social welfare payments and increasing taxes. While this material downsizing has potential to lower certain sources of ecological stress, it is also emblematic of widening inequality, declining governmental capacity, and increasing political instability. In some especially hard-pressed countries we are already seeing adaptive responses such as the rediscovery of bartering and localized trading as ways to meet daily needs. Though public discontent is spreading, uncertainty remains about whether current forms of political expression will be sufficient to achieve systemic changes consistent with more sustainable consumption, and whether links will be made between activist movements and sustainable development communities. A striking prototype could be Japan, where economic growth has stagnated for more than twenty years and the recent tsunami-induced disasters have compounded the country’s despondent economic mood. Indeed, one result may very well be a repackaging and relaunching of the growth paradigm.

The goal and main theme of the workshop

The ongoing financial crisis—and the flaws that it exposes in the current system of economic organization—signals a need to go beyond customary approaches for conceptualizing sustainable consumption and to envision how we might configure entirely new systems of consumption. This workshop will bring together an international group of researchers and practitioners for focused consideration of these challenges and opportunities.

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