We aim to bring insight and clarity to a key aspect of the sustainability challenge: the role of consumption.

Our cutting-edge research lies in five key fields: consumption, cultural change, innovation, politics, and social justice.

Our work responds to multiple sustainability challenges, from climate change and resource scarcity to social inequality and environmental injustice.

We focus on the processes of consumption and production that underpin such challenges across a variety of areas, including food, energy, housing, and transport.

Our approach

To understand sustainable consumption and production, the Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI) challenges orthodox thinking on sustainable consumption and production by looking beyond individual actors, such as the consumer or the firm.

Challenging orthodox thinking

Understanding consumption in contemporary societies is essential if we want to address the unsustainable way in which we currently provide in our needs. Changing practices of consumption, and the business models in which they are embedded is the key to more sustainable lifestyles.

Mat Paterson / Director, SCI

We do not have a blueprint for sustainability transitions. Instead, we focus on how current forms of social and economic activity, and how they are constantly changing, shape the pursuit of sustainability. These include shifts in business practice and structure, intensified inequalities, social and technical innovation, global migration, novel social identities and practices, and political polarisation.

The SCI works as a close-knit, interdisciplinary community of critical social science scholars at various career stages to carry out this research agenda. We do so across diverse empirical contexts and deploy a diverse range of social science methodologies. We also do so with a focus on developing the work and careers of sustainability-oriented researchers working across the social sciences.

The SCI influences thinking on sustainable consumption within and beyond academia by developing meaningful relationships through long-term partnerships and collaborative projects, as well as leading and participating in wider knowledge-sharing activities through seminars, conferences, and networks.

Communicating our work

We regularly communicate our research findings and insights to a range of audiences, through academic journals, blogs, books, exhibitions, policy consultation, policy notes, public debates, stakeholder reports, the media, and workshops.

We actively engage with businesses, policy-makers, and civil society organisations, striving to inform wider public debate.

Our history

Our research focus has evolved from consumer behaviour to a range of topics, from production to politics and governance to social justice.

Tackling climate change

The unsustainability of current consumption patterns is closely linked to social inequality: the environmental and health burden of production and consumption tends to be placed disproportionately on deprived communities. We aim to understand how current modes of provision perpetuate such inequality so we can help facilitate more just sustainable practices.

Mat Paterson / Director, SCI

We were established in 2008, with the principal aim of enhancing research and insight into one of the world’s most pressing challenges: climate change.

Despite 20 years of rhetoric regarding the urgent need to address modern consumption patterns, we were among the first major research institutes to place consumption and its unsustainability at the heart of research enquiry.

We sought to utilise the unique strengths of The University of Manchester to bring interdisciplinary insight and clarity to the topic.

Defining ‘sustainable consumption’

Since launching, we have made a significant contribution to the emergent field of sustainable consumption - shaping its meaning and challenging orthodox thinking.

In our early years, this included significant contribution to the development of climate policy, environmental economics, life-cycle analysis, and psychology.

Developing fresh sustainability approaches

However, our recent research has focused on interrogating the fundamental processes of societal change to identify how long-term and large-scale transitions to sustainable consumption can be achieved.

This shift responded to the need to ask new questions and challenge the conventional understanding of societal organisation and change, alongside the growing realisation that increasingly environmentally-aware citizens and sustainability-motivated businesses could not, alone, overcome the threats posed by climate change. We have played a critical role in developing fresh approaches in sustainability by gaining greater insight into how:

  • everyday practices are reproduced;
  • our patterns of consumption are formed;
  • systems are established, organised, innovated, disrupted, and undermined

Our research contends that these processes, which shape what people do and how innovation occurs, represent the critical sites through which long-term, large-scale sustainability needs to be tackled.