No. 100: GAIA S1/2014 – Special Issue Out Now!

GAIA – Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society S1/2014 (our 100th issue) has just been released. We thank guest editors, authors, reviewers and board members for their contributions to our journal.

Consumerism has become a cornerstone of modern civilizations and a threat to global sustainability. This special issue of GAIA focuses on Sustainable Consumption, posing the question: how can sustainable consumption be promoted? The special issue presents research results to this core question explored within the focal topic From Knowledge to Action – New Paths towards Sustainable Consumption. The papers range from a reference framework for fundamental conceptual and normative issues to exemplary viewpoints on phenomena of individual consumption. From an outside perspective, three paradoxes of sustainable consumption are identified and reflected upon, which may be characteristic of the current state of sustainable consumption research in general. Stimulating the debate on inter- and transdisciplinary approaches, the papers show directions for future research.

Pressing questions of consumption and global sustainability drive scientists and artists alike. Therefore, the photos illustrating this special issue come from six shortlisted artists of this year's Prix Pictet, which was devoted to the theme Consumption. The six artists (Hong Hao, Abraham Oghobase, Rineke Dijkstra, Mishka Henner, Motoyuki Daifu, and Laurie Simmons) selected here approach Consumption in their projects from various perspectives. Depicting, amongst others, the daily objects consumed, feedyards or love dolls, the examples showcased in GAIA were chosen in order to create an associative connection to the issues addressed in the respective articles. The photo captions, taken from the artists' statements, add a further layer of reflection.

We gratefully acknowledge funding by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for this special issue of GAIA.

For more information, please browse the table of contents below.

We hope you will genuinely enjoy reading this 100th issue of GAIA.

Your Editorial Team
Almut Joedicke, Ulrike Sehy, Tobias Mickler, Martina Blum

We invite article submissions related to inter- or transdisciplinary environmental and sustainability research. For further information click here. The new issue is on its way to subscribers. Want to subscribe? Click here.


Sustainable Consumption – the Life-saving Straw in the Matter of Sustainability? (open access)
Armin Grunwald

Sustainable Consumption – an Unwieldy Object of Research (open access)
Rico Defila, Antonietta Di Giulio, Ruth Kaufmann-Hayoz (guest editors)

Nourishing ground of this GAIA special issue is the focal topic From Knowledge to Action – New Paths towards Sustainable Consumption funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The introductory paper describes the synthesis process, which focused on fundamental conceptual and normative issues of sustainable consumption as an object of research, and summarises its main results – classification systems, conceptual structures, and clarifications of normative positions pertaining to four questions: how to conceive individual consumption, how to relate consumption and sustainability, how to assess sustainable consumption, and how to change individual consumption. It also explains how the individual papers of this issue under the headings Viewpoints and Reflection relate to these results.

Active Consumership as a Driver towards Sustainability? (open access)
Birgit Blättel-Mink

Recently, more and more providers of goods and services have actively involved consumers and users in processes of value creation and innovation. Bottom-up processes of collaborative production of consumer communities have gained public attention. In sustainability research, these phenomena are considered as promising for fostering sustainability in consumption. Active consumer ship, in this sense, may well encourage people to be more creative in finding sustainable solutions for satisfying needs and – even more importantly – help them be more open in embracing the opportunities these solutions can offer. Discussing different kinds of active consumership, the author identifies three new roles for consumers: prosuming, co-innovation and social innovation. She explores their relevance for fostering sustainability in consumption by means of examples. For instance, prosuming might increase sustainability in consumption if different kinds of motivations are taken into account; co-innovation very often relies on lead users who may help to increase sustainability if they themselves show characteristics of opinion leaders.

A Practice Theory Approach to Sustainable Consumption (open access)
Melanie Jaeger-Erben, Ursula Offenberger

Sustainable consumption is often reduced to consumer choices or forms of product appropriation. Such a narrow focus on individual acts neglects their role in reproducing social order and only shows the top of the iceberg of consumption. In contrast, reconstructing consumption as a part of social practices sheds light on the fundament of the iceberg and shows how everyday consumption patterns are embedded in socio-cultural and socio-technical settings. A qualitative study on life course transitions to parenthood is taken as an example to show how changes in a household's consumption patterns is pre-structured by the social construction of parental practices. The paper concludes with a call for a more reflexive, collaborating and experimental policy approach towards sustainable consumption.

Motivation and Impact. Implications of a Twofold Perspective on Sustainable Consumption for Intervention Programs and Evaluation Designs (open access)
Ingo Kastner, Ellen Matthies

Measures designed to foster individual sustainable consumption should target high-impact behaviors (impact perspective) and include strategies that promote people's general motivation to contribute to sustainable development (intent perspective). In doing so, long-term behavioral changes and positive spillover effects may be achieved and negative spillover may be alleviated. Taking into account this twofold perspective on sustainable consumption, we designed an intervention program for the promotion of sustainable consumption in terms of energy efficiency at the workplace. The program evaluation covered impact-related indicators in terms of metered energy consumption data, and intent-related indicators in terms of a scale referring to the general motivation to save energy at the workplace. The intervention program showed positive outcomes for both kinds of indicators while the relationships between the indicators were moderate only.

Sustainable Consumption Corridors: Concept, Objections, and Responses (open access)
Antonietta Di Giulio, Doris Fuchs

In this paper, we explore whether the idea of "sustainable consumption corridors", derived from concepts of a good life, can be a good starting point to define criteria of sustainable consumption. Such corridors would be defined by minimum standards, allowing every individual to live a good life, and maximum standards, ensuring a limit on every individual's use of natural and social resources in order to guarantee access to a sufficient level of resources (in terms of quantity and quality) for others in the present and in the future. We first present the idea, as it resulted from the process of integration within the focal topic From Knowledge to Action – New Paths towards Sustainable Consumption. We then outline potential objections to the idea. Such objections are the pluralists' objection, the liberalists' argument or the argument of lacking acceptance. We show that there is no argument strong enough to utterly turn down the idea. We end by drawing conclusions with regard to future research and to possible strategies of implementation.

Key Competencies for and beyond Sustainable Consumption. An Educational Contribution to the Debate (open access)
Daniel Fischer, Matthias Barth

Sustainable consumption is a field characterized by complex system relations that do not allow prescribing easy solutions for changing consumer behavior. This paper provides an educational perspective on the controversial debates that have evolved in GAIA and the broader scholarly literature about the roles and responsibilities of individuals in the context of sustainable consumption. We introduce an educational key competencies approach comprising of seven generic competencies, and argue that the promotion of key competencies is a transversal contribution to this debate, as it does not favor any particular normative position, but is relevant across all. We advocate for a more comprehensive and effective conception of an educational contribution to promoting sustainable consumption that goes beyond the narrow focus of training skills, providing information, and testing for results.

Sustainable Consumption – Three Paradoxes (open access)
Michael Maniates

Sustainable consumption is a field in transition, with limited agreement around organizing questions, key definitions, overarching frameworks and fundamental disciplinary traditions. The resulting dissonance complicates the collaboration and cumulative generation of knowledge typical of effective research communities. This dissonance emerges from the papers in this special issue of GAIA, which together illustrate three paradoxes that characterize the field: the primacy of the individual consumer, the counterproductive search for definitions, and limited theorizing about social change and a consequent retreat from power. Concerted struggle with these paradoxes can illuminate new approaches to defining and advancing the field, including those outlined in this essay.

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