Our four research themes explore how reconfiguring consumption and production systems can contribute to less resource-intensive ways of life.

The current period of transformation provides unique opportunities to make changes towards more sustainable modes of provision.

Mat Paterson / Director, SCI

Placing consumption in the foreground of our research allows us to better understand human needs, values, practices, and habits, informing the drive to create more sustainable societies.

However, this focus is balanced with questions surrounding the production, supply, and distribution of goods and services - these factors shape how people live their everyday lives and are in turn shaped by consumption.

Everyday lives

Understanding how everyday practices have formed, and how they vary across social groups, countries, and cultures, is critical for encouraging sustainable consumption.

Our everyday lives consist of social practices.

Some of these practices, such as the heating of homes and the running of water, are quite ordinary and routine.

Others, however, are more conspicuous and happen less frequently – such as buying a car or renovating a home.

People consume goods and services to engage in many different social practices that affect the volumes and forms of consumption infiltrating our everyday lives.


Our research examines how everyday lives and social practices have come to take their particular form.

We explore the infrastructures, institutions, technologies, and cultural meanings that make practices significant to people.

System innovation and transition

Innovation has long been recognised as a powerful force for social and economic change – and one that continuously produces winners and losers.

Innovations of the past, especially those since the Industrial Revolution, have enhanced many lives. But the benefits of innovation have not been distributed equally among the world’s population, and have placed the planet’s resources under ever-increasing pressures.

We must now address these challenges.

Incremental innovations, such as increasingly efficient cars or eco-friendly consumer products, may have a short-term positive effect.

However, achieving truly sustainable production and consumption at the societal level will require major socio-technical changes to energy, mobility, and food systems - and the industries, technologies, markets, government policies, everyday practices, social movements, and cultural beliefs that comprise them.


We focus on understanding how these transitions come about and how they might be accelerated. This involves studying:

  • technological, social, and business model innovations;
  • the role of government;
  • the strategies and actions of those involved in promoting or resisting innovations;
  • how innovations shape and are absorbed into the practices of everyday life.

The politics of unsustainability

Climate change requires a global response, both culturally and politically.

Tackling its root causes – the unsustainable extraction, use, and waste of scarce resources – will require a radical worldwide transformation.

Unfair distributions of wealth, unjust divisions of labour, and unreasonably short timescales for decision-making are just three factors contributing to the unsustainability crisis that is threatening most modern societies.

Our research uses social scientific tools to understand environmental problems as social problems.


Central to such investigations is questioning how:

  • a wide range of actors and agents interact across production and consumption systems;
  • sustainability discourses are framed and relate to everyday practices.

We explore the social relationships that hinder change, as well as those that might enable the transition to greater sustainability.

Underpinning such analyses is the recognition that greater environmental sustainability requires improved social justice and increased democratic participation.

Working towards sustainability

Our researchers work to improve understanding of consumption and production processes, to help make consumption practices and business models more sustainable.

We look at the interactions between individual consumers, firms, and other organisations over time - seeking to understand why they sometimes recur in the same way, but at other times are receptive to change.

We use research methods such as time diaries and longitudinal process analysis; the study of historical cases shows us how societies came to fulfil people’s needs in deeply unsustainable ways.


This understanding allows us to drive the transition toward sustainability while satisfying human needs.

Our researchers have delivered major contributions to understanding different ways to change energy and mobility systems, working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Our work on consumption practices, meanwhile, has informed product and service development at companies including Tesco and Unilever.