Workshop on Consumption and Environment

February 4, 1997

Is increasing consumption inevitable? Just what drives the exploitation of natural resources? These and issues studied by U-M workshop.

ANN ARBOR—Cleaner and more efficient technologies will not reverse current damaging trends if, at the same time, humans are consuming ever more natural resources, says the University of Michigan’s Workshop on Consumption and Environment.

Funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and administered by U-M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, the workshop focuses on the environmental impacts of consumption patterns across time and cultures with special attention given to individual and group behavior.

The workshop, grounded in behavioral research, especially psychological, historical and the political economy of commerce, establishes the U-M as a center of research and teaching for practitioners, policy-makers, governmental agencies and non- governmental organizations.

Of the three major drivers of global environmental change— population, technology and consumption—the latter has been the least explored, according to the workshop. With a two-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation, an interdisciplinary team of researchers led by U-M Profs. Thomas Princen and Raymond De Young examines patterns of resource use at the levels of the individual and groups. Drawing on disciplines that include psychology, political economy, history, law, behavioral ecology, and sociology, the team focuses on the consumption patterns of the more-developed countries with attention to the historical evolution of those patterns across cultures. The workshop looks at issues of production and economic growth, retailing, psychological satisfaction and social critique. This project examines the consumption/environment connection by analyzing how and to what extent consumption drives environmental change, asking whether ever-increasing consumption is “natural,” whether internal or external incentives to restrict consumption are the most motivating and most durable, and whether “restraint” is a meaningful concept in the contemporary political economy.

Recognizing that the bulk of existing literature on consumption ignores or skirts the environmental connection by concentrating on the production, growth, retailing or psychological satisfaction, the workshop collects and analyzes data connecting individual and collective human behavior to consumption and, especially, overconsumption.
Phone: (313) 647-4418

School of Natural Resources and EnvironmentThomas Princen