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Sustainable consumption and social participation
New forms of consumption like practices of sharing, prolonged use of goods, repairing, upcycling, prosuming and collaborative consumption have been highlighted as new avenues for a transition to more sustainable consumption practices. In our contribution we want to explore, how broadly these practices are already anchored in society and how their dissemination might be enhanced. Using a simplified social milieu and lifestyle model, we will present empirical findings on the dissemination of sustainable consumption practices prevailing in different social groups, giving special consideration to the needs and practical everyday requirements of young people, low-income groups and migrants. Our contribution will draw on results of a long-time in-depth exploration with 85 participants which is currently conducted over a period of several months. The exploration is using an innovative design of social inquiry, combining traditional qualitative fieldwork methodology, such as focus groups, and the use of social media communication, allowing long-term interaction between researchers and practitioners as well as conversation among practitioners themselves. The study is part of an ongoing research project on behalf of the German Federal Environmental Agency (Umweltbundesamt), exploring new ways of participation and civic engagement within the framework of the National Programme for Sustainable Consumption in Germany. A main focus of our contribution will be on the links between sustainable consumption and social participation. Looking on sustainable consumption in this way, offers a fresh perspective to sustainability transitions: Sustainable consumption practices might be embraced because they provide access to goods and services which might otherwise be not available to practitioners. Or they might be appealing, because they entail other benefits, such as the access to social networks, social recognition, cultural distinction or the acquaintance of skills. Putting the focus this way, we can better understand social conditions that promote or inhibit the participation in sustainable consumption practices in particular in those social groups which do not have a strong intrinsic orientation towards sustainability. Practices of sharing, re-use, second hand buying and selling in different realms (e.g. food, textiles, appliances) form a major part of the inquiry. Drawing on these empirical insights, we will discuss how these consumption practices can support a more sustainable use and re-use of resources in the society and how consumers can be empowered as actors in a circular economy.