Sustainable Production Consumption Systems || Production–Consumption Systems and the Pursuit of Sustainability

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<ul><li><p>1L. Lebel et al. (eds.), Sustainable Production Consumption Systems:Knowledge, Engagement and Practice, DOI 10.1007/978-90-481-3090-0_1, Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010</p><p>Introduction</p><p>The pursuit of sustainability has many facets. Sectoral approaches attempt to improve the productivity of agriculture or energy efficiency while reducing nega-tive impacts of air and water pollutants on the environment. In place-based approaches a suite of environmental challenges posed by development are tackled together seeking to reduce underlying drivers, complementarities among inputs and inputs, and negotiating trade-offs when win-win situations are hard to find. In product-oriented approaches the focus is on reducing material and energy or need for hazardous or environmentally threatening compounds used in the manufacture of a particular product. Consumer-oriented approaches use information campaigns to attempt to change what people buy or how they use particular services or goods to lessen impacts on the environment.</p><p>Each of these approaches to sustainability has its limitations. Too narrow a focus on energy security and sustainability may mean for instance, ignoring the impacts of the expansion of agrofuels on other sectors like agriculture and food. Efforts to tackle environmental problems in one city, while successful, may ultimately just end up shifting problems of polluting industries or waste disposal to another place. Gains in fuel efficiency of cars may reduce pollution loads per kilometre travelled but be offset by households travelling more and farther or buying a second car and making separate trips. Too much competing information on how to buy to save the planet creates confusion, may neglect how people behave towards products, and ignores options that dont involve purchasing, like sharing or not buying.</p><p>The pursuit of sustainability cuts across wealth classes. Over-consumption, while not providing significant benefits to improved well-being, is environmentally damaging (Hamilton and Denniss 2005). Under-consumption, while making individual </p><p>L. Lebel Unit for Social and Environmental Research, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand e-mail:</p><p>S. Lorek Sustainable European Research Institute, Overath, Germany e-mail:</p><p>Chapter 1ProductionConsumption Systems and the Pursuit of Sustainability</p><p>Louis Lebel and Sylvia Lorek</p></li><li><p>2 L. Lebel and S. Lorek</p><p>lives miserable, hinders asset accumulation, market development and innovation in societies. Developing country concerns with maintaining soils and growing enough food, and controlling pollution from nascent but rapidly growing industries, are not separable or disconnected from the actions in industrialized or service economies. Investment, trade, production and consumption activities increasingly link across national boundaries. Sustainable consumption movements framed from a western wealthy perspective may undermine livelihoods and firms in developing countries. Neat separations into developing and developed, or south and north, ignore huge differences in access to and power to control critical resources within those catego-ries and cross-linkages. Consumption with environmentally significant impacts (Stern et al. 1997) takes place through the activities of a global consumer class in the capitals of the developing world (Myers and Kent 2003) while the poor may be homeless in the cities of the developed. Gross over-consumption and acute under-consumption co-exist in the real world (Kates 2000) and both must be dealt with in the pursuit of sustainability (Narayan et al. 2000; Hamilton 2003).</p><p>The pursuit of sustainability is never-ending. Environmental conditions and pat-terns of resource use are dynamic and interact in complex ways. As this book was being completed many national economies were entering a recession as a result of the collapse of various inter-linked global financing schemes. Many developing countries were facing prospects of sharp contractions in exports as local manufac-turing and agro-industries slowed production in response to drops in global demand. Unemployment was rising and consumers were cutting back on non-essential expenditures. During the same period public concerns and thus policy attention about climate change was reaching new heights. For the first time in many countries policy-makers were starting to think through the difficulties of financing and carry-ing out adaptation recognizing that in rapidly developing countries vulnerabilities and capabilities were shifting rapidly. Sustainability is forever being pursued in uncertain, complex and dynamic settings.</p><p>The pursuit of sustainability is knowledge intensive. Science could play a larger role than it has so far (Kates and Clark 1999; WSSD 2002). But to contribute effec-tively better ways are needed to bring together research-based understanding with the experience-based knowledge embedded in diverse local practices (Cash et al. 2003). Practice and knowledge often need to be brought closer together, but doing so requires going beyond a pipeline model of science to technology development to practice (van Kerkhoff and Lebel 2006). The engagement between science and practice or policy can vary from participation as consultation through to negotiation and mutual learning relationships.</p><p>Actions and analyses are needed which consider production and consumption together. We need to examine both supply and demand sides of relationships in systems of exchange that are dynamic and include both over- and under-consumption. We need to look, not only at the two ends of the chain, but also what goes on in-between as commodities stretch across the globe. We need to understand how knowledge and information influence the behaviour of governments, firms, house-holds and individuals. In short, we should focus on ProductionConsumption Systems (PCS) which we define in this book as systems in which environmental </p></li><li><p>31 ProductionConsumption Systems and the Pursuit of Sustainability</p><p>goods and services, individuals, households, organizations and states are linked by flows of energy and materials and relationships in which transactions of money and information or negotiation of power and influence take place (Lebel and Lorek 2008). Such approaches would not replace the vast set of experiences and efforts with sector-, place-, product- and consumer-oriented approaches to sustainability, but they would provide an important complement offering a more integrative and systemic view (Princen et al. 2002; Lebel 2004).</p><p>Pursuits</p><p>There are several reasons why a PCS approach to sustainability challenges is desirable.</p><p>Firstly, a PCS perspective brings attention to the processes closer to the deci-sions and actions of final consumers that help drive demand, and hence, are an underlying reason for environmental impacts at remote production parts of com-modity chains (Hertwich 2005). Our understanding of consumers is increasingly being linked to environmental impacts and questions of sustainability (Stern et al. 1997; Hertwich 2002; Hobson 2003a). This body of research underlines the impor-tance of housing, food and mobility as priority fields of action at the household level (Lorek and Spangenberg 2001; Spangenberg and Lorek 2002; Tukker and Jansen 2006).</p><p>Secondly, the commodity chain itself can be thought of as a series or network of many production and consumption relationships (Princen et al. 2002). For each linkage we can ask questions from both a production perspective (how could this industrial process be made more resource efficient?), and, in addition, a consump-tion perspective (what are the underlying drivers of demand?).</p><p>Thirdly, leverage to improve performance in the direction of sustainability can exist at diverse locations along chains sometimes remote from where pollution is emitted or a resource over-harvested. Many problems related to consumption do not result directly from dangerous and inefficient production processes (Murphy 2001). Likewise a narrow focus on behaviour of the household consumer may fail to identify much more powerful leverage points to reduce environmental impacts by meeting a need or aspiration in a different way (Meadows 1999; Clay et al. 2005). A PCS perspective allows consideration of alternative leverage points and the possibility of targeting specific demand or supply processes where necessary (Lebel 2004).</p><p>Finally, a PCS perspective is inherently interdisciplinary, taking into account material and energy flows common to life cycle and related methods but also embracing sociological insights from exploring behaviour and relationships among actors.</p><p>In short a PCS perspective could lead to strategic waypoints towards achieving sustainable development. A focus on sustainable production and consumption systems reduces the problem of pseudo-sustainability that arises from the shifting </p></li><li><p>4 L. Lebel and S. Lorek</p><p>of environmental burdens onto others in the interest of a clean backyard at home. It also draws attention to the opportunity of negotiating shared responsibilities for action across disparate parts of linked value chains among firms and consumers.</p><p>The sustainability of production and consumption is already well recognized as central to achieving sustainable development by world leaders (Manoochehri 2002; Hertwich 2005). In the decade since the formulation of Agenda 21 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (United Nations 1992) their importance has been reiter-ated at international meetings: at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 (WSSD 2002; Barber 2003) and more recently as part of the Marrakesh Process led by United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (Clark 2007).</p><p>There is now a growing body of scholarship exploring a diverse range of initia-tives and experiments aimed at enabling sustainable PCS (Lebel and Lorek 2008). Although the diversity of enabling mechanisms is large, it can be organized into discrete classes as shown in Table 1.1.</p><p>The 11 enabling mechanisms identified in Table 1.1 differ in which activities they target for intervention and who is expected to act or change practices. They also differ in the mixture of assumptions they make about conditions or instruments with respect to market institutions, government regulation, socio-technical innova-tion, and actor partnerships. Other classes of enabling mechanisms undoubtedly also exist.</p><p>A PCS perspective offers possibilities for measurement and assessment based on flow of materials and energy as well as relationships of actors and the distribution of values. Conventional product-oriented life-cycle analyses techniques, for instance, are suitable for describing resource inputs, waste outputs and energy flows of specific production processes and goods. In combination with input-output analyses and information about expenditure these tools are also being adapted for looking at baskets of goods or services essential for strategic analysis of sustainable consumption (Hertwich 2005). Commodity chain analyses suggest possibilities for developing metrics and indicators of how both benefits and involuntary risks are distributed among different actors which, interpreted through political economy lens, provides a means for exploring systematically issues of power. Social account-ing matrices may help with deriving and exploring distributional issues, for exam-ple, across household types (Duchin and Hubacek 2003). For PCS to be a useful unit of analysis a more explicit conceptualization of the system of interest will usually be needed, and if comparisons are to be made, these will need to be done in reasonably consistent ways. In Box 1.1 we offer some suggestions.</p><p>Gaps</p><p>A recurrent challenge in pursuits of sustainable PCS (Box 1.1) is gaps between knowledge and practice. In some cases knowledge appears to be insufficient or lack saliency, whereas in others knowledge appears adequate but other factors shape </p></li><li><p>51 ProductionConsumption Systems and the Pursuit of Sustainability</p><p>Table 1.1 Examples of enabling mechanisms for sustainable productionconsumption systems (after Lebel and Lorek 2008)</p><p>Enabling mechanism Short descriptionConcerns, constraints, or challenges</p><p>Produce with less Innovations in production process reduce the environmental impact per unit made.</p><p>Rebound effects occur that wipe out gains through increases in the number of units or how they are used.</p><p>Green supply chains Firms with leverage in a chain impose standards on their suppliers to improve environmental performance.</p><p>There may be unfair control of small producers.</p><p>Co-design Consumers are involved in design of products and services to fulfil needs with less environmental impact.</p><p>Incentives are not adequate to involve consumers.</p><p>Produce responsibly Producers are made responsible for waste from product disposal at end of life.</p><p>Incentives for compliance without regulation may be too low for many types of products.</p><p>Service rather than sell</p><p>Producers provide service rather than sell or transfer ownership of assets, which reduces number of units made while still providing functions needed.</p><p>This is a difficult transition for firms and consumers to make as it requires new behaviors and values.</p><p>Certify and label Consumers preferentially buy labeled products. Labels are based on independent certification, and producers with good practices increase their market share.</p><p>Consumers are easily confused with too much information or with a lack of transparency and credibility of competing schemes.</p><p>Trade fairly Agreements that may include a minimum price and other investments or benefits are made with producers. Consumers preferentially buy products labeled as or sold through fair trade channels, and producers get a better deal.</p><p>Mainstream trade still dominates. It is hard to maintain fair trade benefits to producers when a product becomes mainstream.</p><p>Market ethically Reducing unethical practices in marketing and advertising would reduce wasteful and over-consumption practices.</p><p>Policy makers are reluctant to make or enforce regulation to tackle very powerful private sector interests.</p><p>Buy responsibly Campaigns educate consumers about impacts of individual products, classes of products, and consumption patterns, resulting in overall behavior changes.</p><p>Converting intentions and values into actions in everyday life is often difficult for consumers. Issues of price, convenience, flexibility, and function still matter a lot.</p><p>(continued)</p></li><li><p>6 L. Lebel and S. Lorek</p><p>Table 1.1 (continued)</p><p>Enabling mechanism Short descriptionConcerns, constraints, or challenges</p><p>Use less Consumption may be reduced for a variety of reasons, for example, as a consequence of working less. There are many potential environmental gains from less overall consumption.</p><p>Difficult to get past the dominant perception that using or buying less means a sacrifice. Also, less income and consumption may not automatically translate...</p></li></ul>