Consuming Values and Contested Cultures: A Critical Analysis of the UK Strategy for Sustainable Consumption and Production
The term “sustainable consumption” is subject to many interpretations, from Agenda 21’s hopeful assertion that governments should encourage less materialistic lifestyles based on new definitions of “wealth” and “prosperity”, to the view prevalent in international policy discourse that green and ethical consumerism will be sufficient to transform markets to produce continual and “clean” economic growth. These different perspectives are examined using a conceptual framework derived from Cultural Theory, to illustrate their fundamentally competing beliefs about the nature of the environment and society, and the meanings attached to consumption.
Cultural Theory argues that societies should develop pluralistic policies to include all perspectives. Using this framework, the paper examines the UK strategy for sustainable consumption, and identifies a number of failings in current policy. These are that the UK strategy is strongly biased towards individualistic, market-based and neo-liberal policies, so it can only respond to a small part of the problem of unsustainable consumption. Policy recommendations include measures to strengthen the input from competing cultures, to realize the potential for more collective, egalitarian and significantly less materialistic consumption patterns.