Gender Dimensions of Sustainable Consumption


Weller, Ines. 2017. “Gender Dimensions of Sustainable Consumption.” In Routledge Handbook of Gender and Environment, edited by Sherilyn MacGregor, 331–44. London: Routldege.

Author: Ines Weller



Sustainable consumption and production patterns have been prominent issues from the very start of the sustainable development debate. In fact, Agenda 21, the plan of action adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro stated that ‘the major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized coun-
tries . . .’ (UN 1992:31). Although the urgent need for fundamental changes in consumption and production patterns, which would transform societies and push them in the direction of sustainable development, has been recognized since that time, particularly in the Global North, there are still very few signs that any such transformation is taking place. World energy consumption grows unabated as global carbon emissions continue to rise. The fundamental inequalities between the Global North and South also remain, despite very high rates of growth in the newly industrialized and developing countries of the Global South in particular (IEA 2013). In this context, and especially in the context of sustainable patterns of consumption and production, the attitudes and behaviours of private citizens and consumers, their perceptions of environmental problems, and associated use of resources all play an important role. Hitherto, however, these debates have neglected the significance of gender, gender relations, and gender justice for sustainable consumption.

In this chapter, I will focus on debates and research in Germany/Western Europe. I begin by introducing the definitions, objectives, and areas of responsibility of various actors for sustainable consumption. This compact overview focuses in particular on the relationship between production and consumption as gendered societal spheres. I then move on to consider the tension that exists between the theory of privatized environmental responsibility, on the one hand, which criticizes tendencies to overstate and moralize the power of private consumers to shape change and, on the other, women as change agents for more sustainable consumption. The next part of the chapter is organized around the distinction, which is useful for analyzing the gender aspects of sustainable consumption, between explicit and implicit gender dimensions. With reference to feminist theorist Sandra Harding (1986), I draw together the individual and structural levels of gender as explicit gender dimensions. Both of these are for the most part based on statistical data and empirical findings, particularly concerning gender differences and, in this respect, link to ambivalence between the analysis of gender and gender hierarchies, on the one hand, and the reproduction of traditional gender images and dichotomies on the other. The discussion focuses in particular on the symbolic conceptual level of gender, which I consider in detail in relation to a specific example. The background is the feminist critique of the claim of the natural sciences to objectivity (Orland and Scheich 1995). Drawing on the example of a study on the volume of food waste, I draw attention to several gender-related ‘blank spaces’ and gaps in the data that have been produced in this field. This emerges more clearly from closer consideration of the treatment given to male-coded production and female-coded consumption. (Summary from original source)

Topics: Development, Environment, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Justice Regions: Europe, Western Europe Countries: Germany

Year: 2017

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