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Sustainable consumption in national context: an introduction to the symposium

Keywords: sustainabile consumption , environmental impact , international agreements , politics , environmental policy , cultural values , case studies

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International institutions over the past decade have begun to emphasize the need to reduce the environmental impacts of heavily consumerist lifestyles in affluent nations as a precondition for sustainable development. Originally outlined in Agenda 21, and discussed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, sustainable consumption has now emerged as a definable domain of global environmental politics. At the level of high environmental politics, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) have played key roles in reframing environmental deterioration as a consumption problem, rather than a production problem. However, within specific national contexts policymakers and social activists are seeking to engage with the difficult conceptual and political dilemmas posed by contemporary modes of material provisioning. This introductory overview highlights the historical background on the nascent issue of sustainable consumption and summarizes the three comparative case studies that follow: the Netherlands, France, and the United States. The experiences of these countries suggest that the concept of sustainable consumption is quite malleable, and its practical application is shaped by the political culture and policy styles of specific national contexts.


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