Call for Papers

Challenging Consumerism: Toward Living Well Sustainably


for the 3rd  SCORAI workshop
March 8-10, 2012
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

The Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI) is collaborating with the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the One Earth Initiative Society to convene the Third SCORAI Workshop on the UBC campus on 8-10 March 2012. The workshop is designed to involve principally participants from the United States and Canada with the first day of the event devoted to academic discussion in accordance with the customary “SCORAI workshop” model. The second day will be organized as a “multi-stakeholder dialogue” that will also directly engage a diverse group of North American policy makers and practitioners from government, NGOs, and advocacy organizations.

The conceptual framework for the workshop is appended below.

We take this opportunity to invite expressions of interest (in the form of a 250-word abstract by November 7) from researchers engaged in work that speaks to these issues. The Workshop Organizing Committee will review all abstracts received by the target date and seek to accommodate relevant contributions on a space-available basis. Please feel free to get in touch with any of us listed below in the event of questions or concerns. Abstracts should be sent to Maurie Cohen at

Challenging Consumerism: Toward Living Well Sustainably

The intertwined environmental, economic, and financial crises have over the last few years exposed the flaws in the material and energy-intensive lifestyles that are prevalent throughout the global North and that are growing rapidly in parts of the global South. In some quarters, alternatives are being debated to move beyond consumerism and toward more sustainable human and ecological well-being. On a global level, the work of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic and Social Progress has unleashed numerous initiatives to transcend customary economic metrics of prosperity, right livelihood, and ecological balance. The lead-up to the Rio+20 Conference has additionally prompted a steady stream of policy documents framing the challenge of the “green economy.” At the grassroots level, alternative local economies and lifestyles are being tested in many places and reformist economists are creating new models for public policies to reconcile human and ecological needs. But it is not clear if these initiatives—from micro to macro—will by themselves (or even in aggregate) lead to the required systemic changes.

This workshop aims to assemble concepts and practices on sustainable well-being that are being trialed in localities across North America and internationally. The aim is to identify projects that are reducing human impact on the planet and are positioned for wider diffusion. Theories about social movements, social practices, socio-technical transitions, cultural change, and new economics have suggested that less impactful substitutes for prevailing lifestyles are possible. For instance, campaigns to “slow” the pace of contemporary life  (e.g., slow food, slow housing, slow cities, slow money) are gaining stature in some parts of the world and could help shift public sensibilities to a focus on “being” rather than “having.” Other nascent innovations centered on transition towns, eco-villages, eco-housing, localist economies, local energy projects, and work-time reduction seek to encourage more autonomous modes of self-provisioning. Conceptual and pragmatic connections among sustainable livelihoods, full employment, living wages, and universal benefits are emerging as well. Commendable though these efforts may be, is there demonstrable evidence that such alternatives reduce material and energy throughputs and foster progress toward per capita fair “Earthshares”? What has been accomplished thus far in terms of reduced material and energy consumption, lifestyle changes and political shifts? If not much, why not? If a lot, why have they not yet attracted wider attention? What are the barriers and opportunities to build on these initiatives, create synergies, and scale up to mainstream practices, policies, and institutions? What new understandings can be garnered from the accumulating experience?

Some researchers are formulating critiques of the dominant economic and political system and contributing to the growing body of work attesting that increasing income inequality is counterproductive to the goals of sustainability and that economic growth is a false answer to the societal equity problem. Other scholars are focusing on future visions of a more sustainable society and on the design of scenarios depicting how such ideas could be achieved. These new developments are however confronting powerful forces—rooted in the growth imperative of neoclassical economics—that push in a very different direction, driven by incumbent political and economic interests and fueled by technologies that take us in potentially perilous directions. On an individual level, people are for the most part locked into unsustainable lifestyles and social practices, while incremental and ambivalent policies fail to impart the necessary structural changes.

This workshop is an opportunity to explore the above trends through the lenses of empirical findings from local experiments, critical theory, scenario building, technology assessment, sustainability education, and others. We aim to bring together innovative practices and thinkers and to critically reflect on the expanding body of data from small-scale initiatives, to examine their accomplishments and setbacks, to investigate the appropriateness of their underlying assumptions about human and institutional behaviors, and to assess their capacity for moving into the mainstream. The workshop seeks to explore these findings in the context of large-scale economic, political and theoretical constraints, and to deliberate on the barriers and opportunities.

Financial support provided by:
The Garfield Foundation
The Tellus Institute
UBC Liu Institute for Global Issues

New Jersey Institute of Technology

Integrative Strategies Forum

Clark University


One Response to Call for Papers

  1. Marco L. says:

    You mention “sustainable human and ecological well-being”. In which quarters do you find this alternatiev being debated?

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