Transforming Consumption: From Decoupling, to Behavior Change, to Systems Changes for Sustainable Consumption


Dara O'Rourke, Kiklas Lollo


behavior change, decoupling, efficiency, postgrowth economics, sustainability transition, sustainable consumption


Annual Review of Environmental Resources

Year Published:


Policy Summary

The authors argue that sustainable consumption needs to evolve from focused on individual consumer behaviors (since people often don’t buy what they say they would buy – atttitude-behavior gap) to become more broadly rooted in systems changes in production (shift from production being driven by economics and efficiency to being driven by environmental concerns) and consumption. We need to decouple the resiliency of the economy to one that needs contant economic growth. Policies can support this system’s approach of sustainable consumption by reducing risk for innovators, eliminating subsidies for unsustainable practices, and regulating dirty industries more strictly. In product-service systems, occur when companies realign their intent to sell a product to one trying to sell a service. This results in fewer inputs into producing products for everyone, but increased and efficient use of the products that are created (ex: renting a car only when you need it, etc). Collaborative consumption occurs when redistribution works through a sharing economy (ex: sharing economy of cars). A circular economy inegrates the product’s full life cycle into it’s production therefore incentivizing companies to design products that can be recycled. These new models influence individual behaviors, but also develop new cultural norms that support less consumeristic behavior. Incorporating climate risks and pressures from external stakeholders has been shown to change business behavior to look beyond the immediate bottom line, to a more long term sustainable production model. Governments must also change to include indices beyond the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a national status indicator. Inclusion of the Index for Sustainable Economic Welfare or a Gross National Happiness index could help shift the system more towards sustainable consumption.