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Exploring “aspirational consumption” to drive systemic lifestyle changes

  • Published on February 23, 2023

In this thought piece, we explore the potential of “aspirational consumption” to drive the shift and systemwide changes, supporting efforts to decarbonize, detoxify and decouple production on the supply side for countries at different income and development levels. We explore how social practices that influence and are influenced by transitions in infrastructure and production practices can transform the provisioning systems that we use to meet and fulfil human needs and our relationship to the environment.

Each year, the fashion industry produces a startling array of new clothes, backed up by advertising that in its totality runs in hundreds of billions of dollars per year. The result: 73% of all clothes produced end up being dumped, burned, or otherwise discarded, with ever shorter use. And this scenario is repeated in sector after sector for the essentials in our lives. In this paper we ask: need this be so?

The scale of the multiple crises that we face – human and planetary – is unprecedented in history and will require the efforts of all. Most policy efforts have focused on supply side conditions and sustainable production and, while these are essential, less attention has been given to the important role that consumers along the value chain could play in supporting systemic change. But this is changing. The recently adopted UN resolution (28 July 2022) establishing a human right to a clean, sustainable, and healthy environment calls into question not only the license to operate of highly polluting firms but also the role that individuals and consumers can play in enabling and demanding a cleaner and healthier future. 

At the Climate Conference in Glasgow in 2021, Prime Minister Modi of India announced a new campaign which could deliver solutions to address the climate crisis   Lifestyles for Environment, or LiFE for short.  As India assumed the G20 Presidency in 2023, LiFE is coming front and centre as a key issue – putting lifestyles and demand-side changes at the top of the agenda for key economic and development ministries. A focus on sustainable lifestyles and education has been key to the work of the 10-Year Framework Programme on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP).

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