Workplaces As Enabling Structures for Sustainable Consumption Practices?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:45
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Elisabeth SUESSBAUER, Center for Technology and Society (ZTG), Germany
Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, many attempts have been made to influence knowledge or attitudes of consumers but have not led to significant changes of resource-intensive consumption patterns (Jackson 2005; Fuchs/Lorek 2005). A main challenge is that everyday consumption is comprised of routines and habits that are rarely reflected upon and which are embedded in social and material contexts that cannot easily be changed (Shove/Warde 2002; Spaargaren/ van Vliet 2000). Practice theory scholars (Shove et al. 2012; Brand 2014) emphasize that all elements of consumption practices have to be addressed for a change of daily routines: meaning, implicit and explicit rules, practical knowledge, and material arrangements.

The paper is based on the idea that companies are able to provide a context which facilitates sustainable consumption at the workplace by establishing supportive material structures and norms as well as enhancing respective competences. Experimenting with sustainable consumption practices at the workplace could – as a kind of “spill over” – result in positive effects on routines in private households.

This assumption is empirically analysed in the transdisciplinary project IMKoN comparing the provision of “enabling structures” of German companies of different sectors and sizes. We are interested in two perspectives: a) Are the companies open to take up ideas of sustainability oriented employees to optimize entrepreneurial structures towards sustainability? (outside-in perspective); b) Which effects does the provision of enabling structures for sustainable consumption at the workplace have on private consumption habits? (inside-out perspective)

We apply a mixed-methods approach including qualitative interviews with the management, a group discussion with 8-10 employees, narrative interviews as well as an online survey among the entire staff. In comparing the companies we will discuss, how unsustainable elements of daily practices can be replaced or linked up in a new way.