The over-exploitation of natural resources driven by exponential (un-)economic growth cannot be solved by technology alone. New patterns of consumption are necessary as well as social innovations that decouple the creation of well-being and quality of life from environmental degradation. Sharing instead of owning is only one example of the new lifestyles and new business models being developed.
Private consumers cause a significant share of the impacts on climate change and resource use. This is especially true in western societies, but the diffusion of those lifestyles to rapidly emerging economies and cities is exasperating the situation. Yet decisions on consumption are driven by more than just individual preferences. Infrastructures impact the demand for living space or the usage of different modes of transportation. Prices, subsidies, efficiency gains and tax benefits are key determinants of the willingness to invest in sustainable products. Not least it is the features and availability of sustainable products and services that need to convince consumers to actually use them.
The transition towards sustainable development needs more than technological solutions and new business models. It is invariably connected to the models of well-being and wealth of modern industrial societies. Despite all the successes in improving energy and resource efficiency the global ecological challenges are mounting.
What is required is a "twin decoupling": Not only does environmental degradation need to be decoupled from economic performance as measured by GDP (eco efficiency), but also our future well-being from GDP (sufficiency). New concepts of well-being have their starting poing here. Nationally and internationally this debate is well-established, even the OECD is measuring well-being with a set of eleven indicators, many capturing environmental and social aspects. The Wuppertal Institute is a part of the search for new indicators of well-being and sufficiency strategies.
Cities and city quarters have become central venues of experimentation with new models of well-being. Movements like transition towns, urban gardening, a new mobility, new models of living together, they all develop in urban areas. The Wuppertal Institute is reviewing such models of urban well-being and actively supporting them, including in our home of Wuppertal. We are also looking into new urban well-being for entire cities, creating new indicators of well-being and proposals for "business development 4.0".
Sustainable lifestyles and models of well-being need policy and business models that enable their flourishing. With the idea of "Politics of Sufficiency" the Wuppertal Institute has made a proposal on how to systemically look at policy options and best practices for sufficiency.
Our daily decisions concering consumption matter – be that in our routines, in our home, at our jobs or in our free time. They influence the values and attitudes of our society, corporations, and policy, the orientation of our markets and the shape of our surroundings, be that wittingly or unwittingly. Change needs teamwork – shaping is a skill that must be mastered.
Read more on the topic of sufficiency as a sustainability strategy here:
Here you find up-to-date information on research findings and activities in the field of consumption and life styles.
You find all scientific publications on our publication server:
Analyses and experiments help to investigate consumption patterns, social innovations and their ecological relevance. In the following you find selected sample projects. A complete list is available here.