Sustainable consumption

Yesterday’s lecture discussed the issues of consumption and, more specifically, sustainable consumption. Questions such as “who is sustainable consumer?” or “what is sustainable consumption?” were found to be much more difficult to answer on a single, straightforward way than first thought.

Some interesting notions in the lecture had to do with different roles of consumption, attitude-behavior gap in terms of sustainability (why people think/want to think of themselves as sustainable but don’ act accordingly) and the concept known as efficiency trap (developing technology creating negative impacts on consumption through efficiency; efficiency lowering prices and thus increasing demand; efficiency freeing time to consume more; efficiency lowering prices and thus freeing more money to consumer on other products, etc.)

After the lecture I started to think about the roles consumption has in my life. To me, when I start to think about it, consumption is a cultural thing that you just “do”; you go to a cafe to meet a friend andf buy a coffee; you go on a date and see a movie; you feel like cheering yourself up and buy a new item. It is an activity through which I construct my identity as well as entertain and reward myself and others. For example, I may buy a salad for lunch and through consumption construct my identity as someone living a healthy lifestyle. Or I may reward myself after a long week with a new pair of shoes, making me feel better (entertaining myself) and making me feel trendy etc. (identity construction). I may also buy something for a friend if I want to make someone feel better. I think in the modern western world the functional role of consumption, satisfying basic, fundamental wants, is so obvious that consumption is more often referred to the cultural aspects.

As I feel I acknowledge rather easily the roles of consumption in my life, a more difficult thing is to define or argue whether my consumption is sustainable or not. For example, I could imagine a salad being a sustainable option for lunch for not including meat and containing organic vegetables, for example, but, on the other hand, as I grab it with me from the store in a plastic box and eat it with plastic fork at my lunch desk, how sustainable choice have a actually made after all? Would it be more sustainable to eat at a university cafeteria instead anyway, where I don’t know the origin of the products I eat but possibly leave less waste behind me? I certainly find it interesting to consider my own consumption habits from the sustainability point of view and it is surprising to realize the multidimensionality the whole perception of sustainability has; many many things need to be considered in order to gain the whole picture whether a certain act is sustainable or not.

Other interesting topics of Monday’s lecture had to do with sustainable homes and sustainable mobility. These are among most affective types of (sustainable) consumption. I started to wonder how and to what extent one’s home location affects to sustainability. When comparing, very generally speaking, for example living in Espoo and living in the heart of Helsinki city, things such as the size of the house, premises (sauna, balcony, fireplace, owen etc.), distances (nearest store, bus stop etc.) and public transport need to be taken into account. For example, in Espoo the houses may be, in general, presumably bigger than in the city area. The houses also more often may have a sauna, for example. The usage of electricity and water could, then, be higher in Espoo residences. I might use public transport living in Espoo by taking a bus to work, but I would probably walk or ride a bike to work if living in the city. The variety of different issues needed to take into account when gaining the whole picture whether an act is truly sustainable or not is important to bear in mind when considering one’s consumption choices and behavior.

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