Symbolically sustainable?

At the turn of the twenty-first century, we have heard terms like sustainability, corporate social responsibility, environmental concern etc. circulate in both the cultural and corporate spheres.

In a new paper, recently published in Consumption, Markets and Culture and co-authored with Dylan King, we look firstly at what this really means in both commercial and consumption practice and, secondly, why these terms seem to resonate symbolically for consumers without having a mainstream practical effect on production and consumption habits.

The environmental sustainability discourse often calls on future decline and decimation as a motivation for action but, as this research suggests, perhaps it’s more our historical appreciation for nature (which is essentially passive) that drives our symbolic connection to the sustainability discourse. This historical connection gives us rich symbolisms (such as those featured in the Toyota hybrid campaigns discussed) but demands little by way of changed behaviours.

Therefore, if we re-evaluate sustainability as a discourse embedded in the past rather than the future, we can start to explain its relatively limited effect and focus on new ways to create greater mainstream action from both consumers and corporations alike.

The paper, titled “Sustainability and the human/nature connection: a critical discourse analysis of being “symbolically” sustainable” can be download here.

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