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

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A Practice-Theoretical Framework for Sufficiency-Based Lifestyles

Addressing contemporary sustainability challenges requires deep socio-technical transitions, changing consumption practices towards more sustainable ones. In order to address sufficiency-based lifestyles and corresponding consumer practices, businesses have to gain a thorough understanding of what kind of needs and motivations feature sufficiency-based consumption patterns. Recognizing the shortcomings of purely behavioral approaches, social practice theory offers a societal and contextual view on consumption: according to social practice theory, more or less sustainable patterns of consumption are embedded within and occurring as part of social practices. Pro-environmental patterns of consumption can therefore not be triggered by educating consumers to change their attitude or beliefs alone. Consumers have to be provided with the infrastructure, tools, know-how and skills to be able to change their consumption practices towards more sufficient ones. In short, businesses have to make offers that allow consumers to do more with less. A social practice can be analyzed along its three central elements: firstly materials, such as tools, infrastructures and the human body itself; secondly competences in the sense of shared understandings and know-how; and thirdly meanings including social and symbolic significances of certain actions. The aim of this paper is to provide a generic framework of sufficiency-based consumer practices that can serve as orientation for businesses looking for leverage points to support sufficiency-oriented consumption lifestyles. A configurative literature review was conducted to identify commonalities along the three elements of social practices for various sufficiency-based practices. After a strategic search of online databases and search engines with a pre-defined search string, the results were screened along a-priori inclusion criteria to select relevant full text publications. Insights on materials, competences and meanings connected with sufficiency-based consumer practices were extracted from the publications’ studies. Commonalities across these practices were identified by open inductive coding in MAXQDA. Materialities that were essential across all of the analyzed sufficiency-oriented mobility practices were appropriate infrastructures such as a well-developed public transport system or cycling paths. Open (public) spaces can support sufficiency lifestyles by providing the space for communal living, sharing and subsistence practices such as gardening. The central competences repeatedly required for sufficiency-related consumer practices across a wide variety of practices were good communication and planning skills, the willingness and skill to adapt to new situations and to find creative solutions and alternatives to everyday challenges. The central meaning attached to sufficiency throughout all practices was a high concern for the environment. Health concerns, the wish for social integrity and frugality in the sense of saving money were further common meanings connected to sufficiency-based consumption. The results of this study offer a generic framework for sufficiency-oriented consumer practices. This implies not only a contribution to the growing body of literature analyzing sustainable consumption from a social practice theory viewpoint, but also points towards important leverage points for companies, organizations and policy makers for initiatives to support sufficiency-based consumer practices.

Maren Ingrid Kropfeld
University of Oldenburg


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