Challenging Consumption – New CONSENSUS Book

“Fundamental changes in the way societies consume and produce are indispensable for achieving global sustainable development,” was a core conclusion of The Future We Want, the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). Adopting a critical yet solutions-focused approach, the CONSENSUS team from Trinity College Dublin and National University of Galway, have worked over the past 5 years to identify, develop and evaluate more sustainable consumption practices. We are delighted to announce that the results of this work have been published in a new book, Challenging Consumption: Pathways to a more sustainable future, available for pre-order from Routledge. The book was launched in Dublin on 12th June 2014 by Dara Lynott, a Director of the Environmental Protection Agency who fund CONSENSUS research.

Speaking at the launch event, Dara Lynott, featured in the video below, emphasised the value of the book’s research findings on sustainable behaviour change stating; “This is a knowledge base that policy makers 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…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. They [the CONSENSUS team] have collaborated across universities, which is no small challenge in itself, they are fantastic communicators…and they are absolutely fantastic advocates themselves and have advocated in front of government policy groups”.

The Challenging Consumption Authors

Left to right: Mary-Jo Lavelle, Prof Anna Davies, Dr. Henrike Rau, Dr. Frances Fahy, Dr. Ruth Doyle, Dr. Mike Hynes, and Dr. Laura Devaney (photo credit: Joseph Fahy).

Team photo

The book is structured around four key sections, beginning with a review of international sustainable consumption ‘Policy and Research’. The ‘Moving’ section examines transport, mobility and the consumption of distance while ‘Dwelling’, looks at challenges and future scenarios for sustainable household food, water and energy consumption. The final part of the book, ‘Futures’, outlines key requirements for the progression of promising consumption practices from their current niches into the mainstream. Theoretical frameworks are advanced throughout the volume, especially in relation to social practice theory, theories of behavioural change and innovative visioning and backcasting methodologies. Challenging Consumption draws on conceptual approaches which move beyond the responsibility of the individual consumer to take into account wider social, economic and political structures and processes in order to highlight both possibilities for and challenges to sustainable consumption. This approach enables students and policy-makers alike to easily recognise the applicability of social science theories.

Professor Anna Davies, Principle Investigator of CONSENSUS and one of the three editors of Challenging Consumption 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”.

The book argues that 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 transdisciplinary engagement and more innovative systems of governance that provide spaces for interaction between regulators, producers and consumers. Ultimately, the lead editors Professor Anna Davies, Dr Frances Fahy and Dr. Henrike Rau call for a reconsideration of how consumption is understood, researched and governed, leaving behind narrowly conceived and often abstracted concerns with the attitudes, behaviours and choices of individual consumers and instead focusing on the broader context that underpins the way people live.

Anna R. Davies, Fahy, F. and Rau, H. (2014) Challenging Consumption: Pathways to a more sustainable future, Routledge: London

Book available to order here

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