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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Personal Competencies for Sustainable Consumption

Individual consumption patterns still constitute a main contributor to the current environmental and socioeconomic jeopardies of human society and hence represent a major challenge in the pursuit of sustainable development. Education for Sustainable Consumption (ESC) is considered one of the most powerful tools to influence individual consumer patterns. A competency-based approach toward ESC aims to (1) stimulate the acquisition of competencies that enable learners to consume in a way such that their behavioral impacts correspond to their sustainability-related intentions, and (2) initiate reflective processes on prevailing societal norms and to empower learners to relate their own values and purposes in life to these norms. As I argue in this paper, current conceptualizations of competencies for sustainable development and sustainable consumption tend to overemphasize intellectual and methodical competencies and neglect affective-motivational ones. Analyzing the evidence on challenges of sustainable consumption and related learning activities, I claim that personal competencies, especially affective-motivational ones, precede a meaningful confrontation with content related to SC and are essential for transformative ESC. These personal competencies include self-awareness; holding and being connected to intrinsic, sustainability-based values; emotional resilience and personal well-being, based on the ability to take care of oneself and mobilize personal resources, including self-efficacy, self-acceptance, mindfulness, and the capacity for pleasure; ethical qualities, such as empathy, openness, and gratitude, as well as positive attitudes toward the future. ESC that does not address these competencies does not only risk to undermine behavioral changes, but might also stabilize unsustainable behaviors by triggering negative emotions and subsequent psychological coping mechanisms. For this reason, I suggest to more strongly consider personal competencies as envisaged learning outcomes of ESC and direct related learning activities to the systematic stimulating of these competencies. Further research and practical experimentation is needed to develop pedagogical formats in which personal competencies can be systematically developed.

Pascal Frankl
Leuphana University Lüneburg


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