Building a culture of sustainable consumption amongst students: The contribution of schools

Patterns of consumption in today’s society are not in line with sustainable development. Agenda 21 already acknowledges the necessity of changing consumption patterns to allow present and future generations to meet their own needs. Schools play a key role to create such change: they offer consumption-related educational opportunities (formal learning) and at the same time they are places in which consumption takes place (informal learning). Schools are of special interest, because students, more than other age groups, define themselves by their (not yet steady) consumption styles.

"Institutions of Learning and Sustainable Consumption" is a research project that focuses on processes of institutional change and changes in individual consumption-related behavior. To help facilitate such change, the concept of a sustainable consumption culture offers an analytical framework. A threefold framework related to practice has been developed:

(1) A review of existing theories related to organisational development and school culture,

(2) empirical validation at schools with different degrees of implementing a culture of sustainable consumption and

(3) a transdisciplinary discourse to develop options for action.

Research shows that different patterns of a culture of sustainable consumption exist. Four dimensions may be highlighted as especially relevant for practice:

(1)The meaning of consumption within the educational content,

(2)the consideration of consumption as an aspect of a school’s mission and performance,

(3)the implication of the pedagogical orientation on consumption-related behavior,

(4)participation in and communication of a culture of sustainable consumption, leading to the question "to what extent are actors able to actively influence institutional consumption?"