Sustainable consumption and the power of economic growth: exploring alternatives to the growth-dependency narrative

Authors:
Tobias Gumbert Münster University, Germany

Search for other papers by Tobias Gumbert in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
,
Pia Mamut Münster University, Germany

Search for other papers by Pia Mamut in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
,
Doris Fuchs Münster University, Germany

Search for other papers by Doris Fuchs in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
, and
Tobias Welck Münster University, Germany

Search for other papers by Tobias Welck in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
Restricted access
Get eTOC alerts
Rights and permissions Cite this article

Increasing shares of the sustainable consumption literature postulate the need for a focus on limits to consumption as a basis for achieving absolute reductions in resource use. After all, improvements in the sustainability of consumption expected from technological innovation and efficiency gains have been eaten up by rebound effects, to date. The decoupling that proponents of green growth were hoping for is nowhere in sight. However, discussions about limits to consumption immediately meet opposition from political representatives, powerful associations and industry lobby groups alike. Specifically, opponents claim that we simply cannot afford a scaling back of consumption and the economic growth it is supposed to drive due to the growth-dependent nature of our welfare systems. Such claims have become very dominant narratives that influence what societies deem ‘realistic’ and ‘possible’ regarding the politics of sustainable consumption, cementing the current status quo. It also shows that research on strong sustainable consumption governance, that is, governance pursuing a reduction in consumption levels and fundamental shift in consumption patterns (especially in the Global North), needs to target such claims head on, if existing paradigmatic barriers to a sustainability transition are to be overcome. But what counter-narrative(s) can scholars offer? To identify potential elements of such counter-narrative(s) for consumption scholars to draw on, the present article investigates what answers critical sustainability research, in particular the degrowth literature, has in stock regarding the affordability of reductions in consumption-driven growth from the perspective of democratic welfare states.

  • Alcott, B. (2010) Impact caps: why population, affluence and technology strategies should be abandoned, Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(6): 55260. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2009.08.001

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Alcott, B. (2013) Should degrowth embrace the job guarantee?, Journal of Cleaner Production, 38: 5660. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.06.007

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Alexander, S. (2014) Basic and maximum income, in G. D’Alisa, F. Demaria and G. Kallis (eds) Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, New York and London: Routledge, pp 1468.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Alfredsson, E., Bengtsson, M., Brown, H.S., Isenhour, C., Lorek, S., Stevis, D. and Vergragt, P. (2018) Why achieving the Paris agreement requires reduced overall consumption and production, Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy, 14(1): 15. doi: 10.1080/15487733.2018.1458815

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Andrews, M. (2004) Opening to the original contributions: Counter-narratives and the power to oppose, in B. Michael and M. Andrews (eds) Considering Counter-Narratives: Narrating, Resisting, Making Sense, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp 17.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Antal, M. (2014) Green goals and full employment: are they compatible?, Ecological Economics, 107: 27686. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2014.08.014

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Asara, V., Otero, I., Demaria, F. and Corbera, E. (2015) Socially sustainable degrowth as a social–ecological transformation: Repoliticizing sustainability, Sustainability Science, 10(3): 37584. doi: 10.1007/s11625-015-0321-9

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ayres, R.U. and Warr, B. (2009) Energy efficiency and economic growth: The ‘rebound effect’ as a driver, in H. Herring and S. Sorrell (eds) Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Consumption, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp 11935, doi: 10.1057/9780230583108_6.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bailey, D. (2015) The environmental paradox of the welfare state: the dynamics of sustainability, New Political Economy, 20(6): 793811. doi: 10.1080/13563467.2015.1079169

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bamberg, M. (2004) Considering counter narratives, in B. Michael and M. Andrews (eds) Considering Counter-Narratives: Narrating, Resisting, Making Sense, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp 35171.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Biesecker, A., Wichterich, C. and Winterfeld, U.v. (eds) (2012) Feministische Perspektiven zum Themenbereich Wachstum, Wohlstand, Lebensqualität, Bremen, Bonn and Wuppertal: Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bohnenberger, K. (2020) Money, vouchers, public infrastructures? A framework for sustainable welfare benefits, Sustainability, 12(2): 596. doi: 10.3390/su12020596

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bohnenberger, K. and Fritz, M. (2020) Making welfare resilient: Creating stable & sustainable welfare systems in times of declining economic growth. Transformation Policy Briefs #2, ZOE-Institute for future-fit economies.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Buch-Hansen, H. and Koch, M. (2019) Degrowth through income and wealth caps?, Ecological Economics, 160: 26471. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2019.03.001

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Büchs, M. (2021) Sustainable welfare: how do universal basic income and universal basic services compare?, Ecological Economics, 189: 107152.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Büchs, M. and Koch, M. (2019) Challenges for the degrowth transition: the debate about wellbeing, Futures, 105: 15565.

  • Buhl, J. and Acosta, J. (2016) Work less, do less?, Sustainability Science, 11(2): 26176. doi: 10.1007/s11625-015-0322-8

  • Cattaneo, C. and Vansintjan, A. (2016) A Wealth of Possibilities: Alternatives to Growth, Brussels: Green European Foundation.

  • Coote, A. (2021) universal basic services and sustainable consumption, Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 17(1): 3246.

  • Coote, A., Kasliwal, P. and Percy, A. (2019) Universal Basic Services: Theory and Practice, London: Institute for Global Prosperity, University College London.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • D’Alisa, G., Demaria, F. and Kallis, G. (eds) (2015) Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, Abingdon: Routledge.

  • De Fina, A. and Georgakopoulou, A. (eds) (2015) The Handbook of Narrative Analysis, Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

  • Edenhofer, O., Mattauch, L. and Siegmeier, J. (2015) Hypergeorgism: when rent taxation is socially optimal, FinanzArchiv/Public Finance Analysis, 71(4): 474505. doi: 10.1628/001522115X14425626525128

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Foucault, M. (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977, New York: Pantheon Books.

  • Fritzsche, E. and Vogler, A. (2018) Braucht demokratie Wirtschaftswachstum? Forschungsstand und legitimitätstheoretische Überlegungen zum zusammenhang von wirtschaftswachstum und demokratiequalität, in T. Mannewitz (ed) Die Demokratie und ihre Defekte. Analysen und Reformvorschläge, Wiesbaden: Springer, pp 5786.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fuchs, D. and Lorek, S. (2005) Sustainable consumption governance: a history of promises and failures, Journal of Consumer Policy, 28: 26188. doi: 10.1007/s10603-005-8490-z

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fuchs, D. and Røpke, I. (Forthcoming) Consumption, in E. Neumayer (ed) Elgar Encyclopedia of Ecological Economics, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fuchs, D., Lorek, S., Di Giulio, A. and Defila, R. (2019) Sources of power for sustainable consumption: where to look, in M. Martiskainen, L. Middlemiss and C. Isenhour (eds) Power and Politics in Sustainable Consumption Research and Practice, London: Routledge, pp 6283.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fuchs, D., Sahakian, M., Gumbert, T., Di Giulio, A., Maniates, M., Lorek, S. and Graf, A. (2021) Consumption Corridors: Living a Good Life Within Sustainable Limits, London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gough, I. (2019) Universal basic services: a theoretical and moral framework, The Political Quarterly, 90(3): 53442. doi: 10.1111/1467-923X.12706

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gough, I. (2021) Climate Change: The Key Challenge: A Framework for an Eco-social Contract, Brussels: ETUI.

  • Hammer, B., Istenič, T. and Vargha, L. (2018) The broken generational contract in Europe: Generous transfers to the elderly population, low investments in children, Intergenerational Justice Review, 4(1): 2131.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hartley, T., van den Bergh, J. and Kallis, G. (2020) Policies for equality under low or no growth: a model inspired by Piketty, Review of Political Economy, 32(2): 24358. doi: 10.1080/09538259.2020.1769293

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hickel, J. and Kallis, G. (2020) Is green growth possible?, New Political Economy, 25(4): 46986. doi: 10.1080/13563467.2019.1598964

  • IGES, Alto University, DMAT, Sitra and KR Foundation (2019) 1.5 Degree Lifestyles, Hayama: IGES.

  • Jackson, T. (2009) Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, London: Earthscan.

  • Jarass, L. (2010) Faire und effiziente Steuerpolitik, in I. Seidl and A. Zahrnt (eds) Postwachstumsgesellschaft: Konzepte für die Zukunft, Marburg: Metropolis, pp 15566.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kallis, G. (2017) Radical dematerialization and degrowth, Philosophical Transactions. Series A, Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences, 375(2095): 113.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kallis, G., D’Alisa, G. and Demaria, F. (2015) Introduction: degrowth, in G. D’Alisa, F. Demaria and G. Kallis (eds) Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, New York and London: Routledge, pp 117.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kallis, G., Paulson, S., D’Alisa, G. and Demaria, F. (2020) The Case for Degrowth, Cambridge: Polity Press.

  • Kelton, S. (2020) The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy, New York: Public Affairs.

  • Köppl, A. and Schratzenstaller, M. (2021) An employment-friendly tax system, in I. Seidl and A. Zahrnt (eds) Post-Growth Work: Employment and Meaningful Activities Within Planetary Boundaries, London: Routledge, pp 16075.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Künzi, K., Oesch, T. and Jäggi, J. (2016) Quantifizierung des Nutzens der Zeitvorsorge KISS - Bericht, Bern: Büro für arbeits- und sozialpolitische Studien Bass AG.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Larrson, J., Nässén, J. and Lundberg, E. (2020) Work-time reduction for sustainable lifestyles, in A. Kalfagianni, D. Fuchs and A. Hayden (eds) Routledge Handbook of Global Sustainability Governance, London: Routledge, pp 33447.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Latouche, S. (2010) Degrowth, Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(6): 51922. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2010.02.003

  • Laurent, É. (2021) From Welfare to Farewell: The European Social-ecological State Beyond Economic Growth, Brussels: ETUI (European Trade Union Institute).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Leiber, S. and Zwiener, R. (2006) Zwischen Bürgerversicherung und Kopfpauschale: Vorschläge für Eine Tragfähige Kompromisslösung, 146th edn, Düsseldorf: Hans-Blöckler-Stiftung.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lorek, S. and Fuchs, D. (2013) Strong sustainable consumption governance: Precondition for a degrowth path?, Journal of Cleaner Production, 38: 3643. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2011.08.008

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mair, S., Druckman, A. and Jackson, T. (2020) A tale of two utopias: work in a post-growth world, Ecological Economics, 173: 106653. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2020.106653

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mastini, R., Kallis, G. and Hickel, J. (2021) A green new deal without growth?, Ecological Economics, 179: 106832. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2020.106832

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mayring, P. (2000) Qualitative content analysis, forum qualitative sozialforschung / forum: qualitative social research, 1(2), Art. 20. doi: 10.17169/fqs-1.2.1089

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Meinhardt, V. (2014) Wohin soll es mit der gesetzlichen Rentenversicherung gehen? Eine Bürgerversicherung wäre armutsverhindernd und finanzierbar!, Vierteljahrshefte zur Wirtschaftsforschung, 83(2): 4959. doi: 10.3790/vjh.83.2.49

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mellor, M. (2014) Money, public, in G. D’Alisa, F. Demaria and G. Kallis (eds) Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, New York and London: Routledge, pp 207209.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitchell, W., Wray, L.R. and Watts, M. (2019) Macroeconomics, London: Red Globe Press.

  • Moisander, J. and Pesonen, S. (2002) Narratives of sustainable ways of living: Constructing the self and the other as a green consumer, Management Decision, 40(4): 32942. doi: 10.1108/00251740210426321

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Muraca, B. (2012) Towards a fair degrowth-society: Justice and the right to a ‘good life’ beyond growth, Futures, 44(6): 53545. doi: 10.1016/j.futures.2012.03.014

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Muraca, B. (2015) Wider den Wachstumswahn: Degrowth als konkrete Utopie, Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, 02/2015, ß pp 1019.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • O’Rourke, D. and Lollo, N. (2015) Transforming consumption: from decoupling to behavior change, to system changes for sustainable consumption, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 40: 23359.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Paech, N. (2012) Befreiung vom Überfluss auf dem Weg in die Postwachstumsökonomie. 3. Auflage, München: oekom.

  • Petschow, U., Lange, S., Hofmann, D., Pissarskoi, E., aus dem Moore, N., Korfhage, T., Schoofs, A. and Ott, H. (2020) Social well-being within planetary boundaries: the precautionary post-growth approach. Partial report for the ‘Approaches to Resource Conservation in the Context of Post-Growth Concepts’ project.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pinto, J. (2020) Green republicanism and the shift to post-productivism: a defence of an unconditional basic income, Res Publica, 26(2): 25774. doi: 10.1007/s11158-019-09444-1

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reuter, N. and Zinn, K.G. (2011) Moderne gesellschaften brauchen eine aktive dienstleistungspolitik, WSI-Mitteilungen, 64(9): 4629. doi: 10.5771/0342-300X-2011-9-462

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rhodes, R.A.W. (ed) (2018) Narrative Policy Analysis: Cases in Decentred Policy, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Rothgang, H., Arnold, R. and Unger, R. (2010) Berechnungen der finanziellen Wirkungen verschiedener Varianten einer Bürgerversicherung in der Gesetzlichen Krankenversicherung:Gutachten im Auftrag der Bundestagsfraktion Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen. www.socium.uni-bremen.de/lib/download.php?file=7c91938b9d.pdf&filename=ZeS-GA_2010_Varianten_einer_ Buergerversicherung_in_der_GKV.pdf

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Saave, A. and Muraca, B. (2021) Rethinking labour/work in a degrowth society, in N. Räthzel, D. Stevis and D. Uzzell (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Environmental Labour Studies, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schor, J.B. (2015) Work sharing, in G. D’Alisa, F. Demaria and G. Kallis (eds) Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, New York and London: Routledge, pp 1958.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Seidl, I. and Zahrnt, A. (2012) Abhängigkeit vom Wirtschaftswachstum als Hindernis für eine Politik innerhalb der limits to growth: Perspektiven für eine Postwachstumsgesellschaft, GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 21(2): 10815.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Seidl, I. and Zahrnt, A. (2015) Social welfare politics cannot ignore growthmania, GAIA - Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, 24(4): 2325. doi: 10.14512/gaia.24.4.6

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sekulova, F., Kallis, G., Rodríguez-Labajos, B. and Schneider, F. (2013) Degrowth: From theory to practice, Journal of Cleaner Production, 38: 16. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2012.06.022

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sinn, H.W. (2004) The pay-as-you-go pension system as fertility insurance and an enforcement device, Journal of Public Economics, 88(7–8): 133557. doi: 10.1016/S0047-2727(03)00015-X

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stahel, W.R. (2013) Policy for material efficiency: Sustainable taxation as a departure from the throwaway society, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 371, 20110567. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2011.0567

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stöger, U., Böhle, F., Hucher, N., Jungtäubl, M., Kahlenberg, V. and Weihrich, M. (2015) Arbeitszeitverkürzung als Voraussetzung für ein neues gesellschaftliches Produktionsmodell. München: Institut für Sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung e.V.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stuart, D., Gunderson, R. and Petersen, B. (2021) The Degrowth Alternative: A Path to Address Our Environmental Crisis?, London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Unti, B.J. (2014) Job guarantee, in G. D’Alisa, F. Demaria and G. Kallis (eds) Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era, New York and London: Routledge, pp 2036.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Van den Bergh, J.C.J.M. (2011) Environment versus growth: a criticism of ‘degrowth’ and a plea for ‘a-growth’, Ecological Economics, 70(5): 88190. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.09.035

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Victor, P. (2008) Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

  • Walker, C. and Jackson, T. (2021) Tackling Growth Dependence: The Case of Adult Social Care, CUSP Working Paper No 28, Guildford: Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Walker, C., Druckman, A. and Jackson, T. (2021) Welfare systems without economic growth: a review of the challenges and next steps for the field, Ecological Economics, 186: 107066.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Werding, M. (2013) Alterssicherung, Arbeitsmarktdynamik und neue Reformen: wie das Rentensystem stabilisiert werden kann. Studie im Auftrag der Bertelsmann Stiftung. Ruhr-Universität Bochum. https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/fileadmin/files/BSt/Publikationen/GrauePublikationen/GP_Alterssicherung_Arbeitsmarktdynamik_und_neue_Reformen.pdf

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wiedmann, T., Lenzen, M., Keyßer, L. and Steinberger, J. (2020) Scientists’ warning on affluence, Nature Communications, 11. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-16941-y

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wittmann, F. (2014) Zeit für die Wohlstandsdebatte, in Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie (ed) Zeitwohlstand: Wie wir anders arbeiten, nachhaltig wirtschaften und besser leben, München: oekom, pp 7485.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zwickl, K., Disslbacher, F. and Stagl, S. (2015) Work-sharing for a sustainable economy, WWWFOREUROPE Working Paper 2016 (11).

Tobias Gumbert Münster University, Germany

Search for other papers by Tobias Gumbert in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
,
Pia Mamut Münster University, Germany

Search for other papers by Pia Mamut in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
,
Doris Fuchs Münster University, Germany

Search for other papers by Doris Fuchs in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close
, and
Tobias Welck Münster University, Germany

Search for other papers by Tobias Welck in
Current site
Google Scholar
Close

Content Metrics

May 2022 onwards Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 1015 501 36
Full Text Views 835 306 2
PDF Downloads 771 236 3

Altmetrics

Dimensions