SCC Webinar

Understanding Sustainable Consumption through the ‘Sufficiency’ Lens

Wednesday, April 10, 2019
2:00 PM Eastern/11:00 AM Pacific

Maurie J. Cohen

New Jersey Institute of Technology

Accumulating evidence suggests that the field of sustainable consumption is undergoing a ‘sufficiency turn.’ After nearly two decades of work focused largely on the efficacy of relative decoupling, efficiency improvements, renewables substitution, labelling and certification schemes, and other so-called ‘weak’ strategies, attention has started to shift toward ‘strong’ alternatives that seek to establish guidelines for maximum thresholds for resource throughput. Because it has long played a significant role in impelling demand for materials and energy and driving economic growth, housing is a particularly salient domain for considering such issues. Public policies, commercial prerogatives, and other inducements have actively encouraged the construction and occupancy of ever-larger homes and this process has persisted in the face of countervailing trends including decreasing household size, aging populations, and increasing complexity and diversity of domestic relationships. The current situation creates a perverse mismatch between available housing stocks and residential needs. At the same time, the imperative to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions and hasten progress on the United Nations 2030 Agenda has added new urgency to efforts to plan for more sustainable housing futures. This presentation formulates quantitative parameters for determining sufficient home size based on a minimum social floor and a maximum biophysical ceiling. It then highlights five social innovations to enable less material- and energy-intensive lifestyles through space-efficient housing.

Maurie J. Cohen is Professor of Sustainability Studies and Director of the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is also Associate Faculty Member with the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers University, Associate Faculty Member with the Rutgers/NJIT Urban Systems Program, and Associate Fellow at the Tellus Institute. Cohen is additionally Editor of Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy (SSPP), Associate Editor of Environmental Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, and a member of the Management Team of the Future Earth Knowledge-Action Network on Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production. His books include The Future of Consumer Society: Prospects for Sustainability in the New Economy, Social Change and the Coming of Post-consumer Society (with Halina Szejnwald Brown and Philip Vergragt), Putting Sustainability into Practice: Applications and Advances in Research on Sustainable Consumption (with Emily Huddart Kennedy and Naomi Krogman), Innovations in Sustainable Consumption: New Economics, Socio-technical Transitions and Social Practices (with Halina Szejnwald Brown and Philip Vergragt) and Exploring Sustainable Consumption: Environmental Policy and the Social Sciences (with Joseph Murphy). Cohen received his PhD. in regional science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1993.

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