Inderscience Publishers

Is consumption becoming less material? The case of services

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The need to develop more sustainable consumption patterns in the rich countries is being increasingly realised. Some people hope that the consumption patterns will change, almost by themselves, in a more sustainable direction, because consumers come to a certain degree of satiation with material goods and therefore demand non-material services. The present article questions this idea in two ways. First, some characteristic features of the development of private consumption are outlined, which can help to explain why few signs of satiation can yet be seen. There follows a detailed discussion of whether it is realistic to expect a shift to the types of service that have a less damaging environmental impact. Historically, the increase in public services has been a positive change in this respect, whereas the contribution from private services has been limited. Future possibilities of increasing environmentally benign services meet serious limitations, so active policies are needed to overcome these.

Keywords: characteristics of consumption, composition of consumption, dematerialisation, economic growth, services

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