Special Session Summary Consumption and Environmental Sustainability ACRoss Cultures

Guliz Ger, Bilkent University
[ to cite ]:
Guliz Ger (1999) ,"Special Session Summary Consumption and Environmental Sustainability ACRoss Cultures", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 271.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Page 271



Guliz Ger, Bilkent University

Current patterns of consumption and production indicate that consumption is on the increase and is likely to continue to be on the increase, globally. The global spread of consumer culture threatens the sustainability of the environment. The dominant vision of the "good life" and the accompanying patterns of desirable consumption typically have high impacts on the environment. Even shopping in malls, distant from home, means more personal transport in cars or buses and more fuel usage and CO2 emissions. As individuals seek the "good life" in consumption, environmental degradation becomes a greater reality and ecological devastation and resource depletion become significant threats. Both transboundary problems, such as ozone layer depletion, oceans pollution, chemicalization of the habitat, and relatively more bounded problems, such as deforestation, desertification, topsoil erosion, and exhaustion and degradation of flora and fauna abound. Global consumerism fuels the depletion of ecological resources, on which our interdependent world relies.

This session focused on the consumption practices in various cultures from the perspective of sustainability and explored some approaches to enhance low impact consumption patterns. There are two approaches to move towards more environmentally friendly ways of life. One is to formulate and establish changes in institutional structures and government action and to install new policy tools and new, environmentally friendly technologies (see e.g., Cohen 1997). The second is to initiate changes in daily life so that consumers behave in ways that have lower impacts on the environment than their current ways of consumption. The conventional emphasis of environmental policies has been on the production side. However, lately, a focus on consumption has been emerging. The recent OECD (1997) report and the two workshops sponsored by the European Science Foundation (Consumption, Everyday Life and Sustainability (Lancaster,1997 and 1998) and Consumption, Environment, and the Social Sciences (Oxford, 1998)) demonstrate this growing interest among environmental policy researchers and decision-makers in consumption. The session sprouted from this recent attention paid to consumption among environmental policy researchers in Europe.

The three presentations offered complementary perspectives on consumption and sustainability, drawing from different disciplinary backgrounds and theories and informed by data from and experience in different cultures: the UK, Norway, the USA, Japan, and Turkey. James Fitchett and Andrea Prothero deliberated the commodification of green issues and argued that the mobilisation of systems within commodity culture offers a potential to encourage environmentally responsible behavior. Gnliz Ger discussed the experiential meanings of low and high impact consumption practices in Turkey and suggested that low impact practices can be spread by shaping and fashioning the movement of meaning. Harold Wilhite and Loren Lutzenhiser emphasized the understanding of social and cultural aspects of consumption and energy use for policy makers attempting to make consumption more environmentally sustainable. We converged on the view that the environmental project needs to use rather than reject or ignore the existing socio/political/cultural systems. Below are the three papers.


Cohen, Maurie J. (1997), "Risk Society and Ecological Modernisation: Alternative Visions for Post-Industrial Nations," Futures, 29 (2), 105-119

OECD (1997), Sustainable Consumption and Production

Consumption, Everyday Life and Sustainability, ESF TERM Programme Workshop, Centre for the Study of Environmental Change, Lancaster University, 5-8 April 1997 and 27-29 March 1998 (http://www.lancs.ac.uk/users/csec)

Consumption, Environment, and Social Sciences Conference, Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society, Mansfield College, Oxford, 6-7 July 1998