What do retirees in rural areas, newly arrived women, high-income earners in cities, and experts think about sustainable consumption? This is explored by Åsa Svenfelt, an associate professor in sustainable development and futures studies, in a new scientific article.

Which perspectives should be heard in a fair societal transformation? In a new article by researchers Åsa Svenfelt, Noha Baraka Wadha, and Vishal Parekh at KTH, they analyze different societal groups’ future visions for sustainable consumption. The aim is not to get stuck in established perspectives but to leave room for voices that are not always heard. The article highlights that a too narrow and exclusive future vision can be seen as a form of “modern colonialism,” where stronger perspectives “colonize” the space given for these types of ideas.

Not only those in power
–  When we explore pathways towards sustainable consumption in the future, we also need to ask ourselves who gets to decide, influence, and ‘colonize’ these futures. Solutions and proposals can be based on the perspectives of more groups, not just those in power and with an arena to influence, says Åsa Svenfelt.

Weapon use
Common to the groups was that they touched on topics such as reuse, high-quality products, justice, and power. Additionally, the research group envisioned a future that radically changes how people live, for example, through vegan diets, reduced consumption, more leisure time, and increased sharing economy. Many of the visions reflected current norms and regulations, but there were also topics outside the current political agenda. For example, both the retiree group and newly arrived women emphasized that society needs to cease weapon use for a sustainable society to be possible.

Was there anything that surprised you?
–  Labeling the consumption of war material as unsustainable consumption and suggesting that peace can lead to sustainable consumption may challenge what research on sustainable consumption usually focuses on, says Åsa Svenfelt. It is very valuable to be exposed to these perspectives, and it reinforces the idea that researchers and other actors working on measures for sustainable consumption need to step outside their own sphere when seeking answers and formulating measures for transition. 

Julia Peltola

Read the full article ”Sustainable consumption futures: according to whom?” i Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy here.

Åsa Svenfelt
Resarcher KTH, Stockholm and Associate Professor, Centre for Municipality Studies, CKS, Linköping University