Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy (Jul 2014)

Conceptualizing sustainable consumption: toward an integrative framework

  • Antonietta Di Giulio,
  • Daniel Fischer,
  • Martina Schäfer,
  • Birgit Blättel-Mink

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 10, no. 1
pp. 45 – 61


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Consumption and sustainability are complex issues—they cannot be reduced to the choice of consumer goods or to “green consumption.” Doing so would neglect the multifaceted embeddedness of consumer acts and the multidimensionality of sustainability. To understand patterns of consumption and move them toward sustainability means dealing with this double complexity. A coherent reference framework is therefore needed, to enable locating and correlating research questions, theories, and findings. Such a framework should provide a basis for interdisciplinary understanding, mutual acknowledgment, and collaborative knowledge creation. Therefore, it needs to be the result of an integrative approach; otherwise it would not allow a wide variety of disciplines to work with it. This article presents such a framework, developed in the course of an interdisciplinary process in a research program. In this process, the researchers of the focal topic asked four questions: 1) How can consumption be conceptualized? 2) How can consumption and sustainability be related? 3) How can sustainable consumption be assessed? and 4) How can changes to individual consumption be motivated? The article condenses the researchers’ overall answers to these questions into four complementary core statements capturing the key elements of the reference framework and concludes by sketching the framework’s benefits for future research.