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Transforming Consumption: From Decoupling, to Behavior Change, to System Changes for Sustainable Consumption


Consumption, although often considered an individual choice, is deeply ingrained in behaviors, cultures, and institutions, and is driven and supported by corporate and government practices. Consumption is also at the heart of many of our most critical ecological, health, and social problems. What is referred to broadly as sustainable consumption has primarily focused on making consumption more efficient and gradually decoupling it from energy and resource use. We argue for the need to focus sustainable consumption initiatives on the key impact areas of consumption-transport, housing, energy use, and food-and at deeper levels of system change. To meet the scale of the sustainability challenges we face, interventions and policies must move from relative decoupling via technological improvements, to strategies to change the behavior of individual consumers, to broader initiatives to change systems of production and consumption. We seek to connect these emerging literatures on behavior change, structural interventions, and sustainability transitions to arrive at integrated frameworks for learning, iteration, and scaling of sustainability innovations. We sketch the outlines of research and practice that offer potentials for system changes for truly sustainable consumption.

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