9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN12 Environment and Society

2009-09-03 09:00:00 2009-09-03 10:30:00 Thursday, 3 September 09:00 - 10:30 Climate Change and the Public Building I, Auditório 4

Climate change and sustainable consumption - Consumers being torn between increasing environmental awareness and decreasing economic options

Recent empirical studies suggest that the intensification of scientific, political and public debates on climate change and global warming has lead to an increase in environmental consciousness in general, and to an increased awareness of the environmental impact of private consumption in particular. Accordingly, large parts of the population express their willingness to adopt eco-friendly consumption behaviour. In addition to this "moralization of the markets" (Stehr et al. 2006), private households are simultaneously hit by the increase in prices of energy, mobility and food, caused by the scarcity of resources and by the indirect consequences of climate change. This in turn alters the economic scope of private households, even though the vulnerability to price increases varies significantly, e.g. with regard to the type of household or the income situation. Against this background, the question arises, whether and to what extent these coexistent developments - the increasing acceptance of eco-friendly consumption patterns and the massive increase in prices of goods and services - actually affect the consumption behaviour of private households. So far, research deficits remain with regard to the implications of these two developments on (sustainable) consumption on the one hand and the strategies of different households to adapt to changes and challenges related to climate change and decreased economic options on the other hand. Against this background, our empirical study aims at analysing the way in which different groups of consumers in Germany deal with these coexisting developments and whether those affect their daily consumption routines. Does the coexistence of the debate on climate change and rising prices open up a "window of opportunity" for sustainable consumption or - quite the contrary - do the economic constraints on households rather limit the extent of sustainable consumption? How do these developments and strategies affect the two objectives of sustainable consumption - consuming differently and consuming less? These questions will be empirically analysed by means of qualitative interviews and discussions in focus groups. First results of this work-in-progress will be put up for discussion in order to achieve a better understanding of the determinants of sustainable consumption at the household level.