Institut de Gestion de l'Environnement et d'Aménagement du Territoire

Construction of Scenarios and exploration of transition pathways for sustainable consumption patterns (CONSENTSUS)

Within the policy and science community concerned with sustainable development, it is widely accepted that the first decades of the 21st century are a crucial turning point for the world community. Widespread poverty, growing inequality between and within a lot of countries, increasing pressures on vital ecosystems and ecosystem services combined with an intensive process of economic and cultural globalisation present enormous challenges for a world which aims for some form of sustainable development. Policy-makers, civil society organisations and scientists alike are looking for tools, concepts, approaches, theories… which can help in orienting policy in a way that a more sustainable development would become possible. It could be that the challenges of sustainable development are translated into equally important challenges with regard to the governance of sustainable development. Transition approaches - and among them ‘Transition management’ (TM) - have been increasingly popular alternative ‘tools’ in Northern Europe to conceive such shift in the governance of sustainable development.

CONSENTSUS (“CONstruction of ScENarios and exploration of Transition pathways for SUStainable consumption patterns”) focuses on 2 crucial aspects – and moments - of Transition Management approaches:

- Phase 1 was dedicated to an exploration of the significance and the conduct of scenario constructions identifying and discussing alternatives to the current food consumption regime. Phase 1 allowed - via a case study in the realm of food consumption - to identify and order the avenues towards a sustainable consumption mode of our societies;

- during Phase 2, we worked on one of these prospectively identified transition pathways and tried to understand the mechanics, dynamics and governance of a specific ‘niche’ of food consumption patterns. The objective was, once that a particular transition pathway was identified, to comprehend how alternative consumption behaviour could be “up-scaled” (i.e. generalized).

Context and Objectives

The objective of the first phase (2007-2008) of the Consentsus project was to investigate and experiment how scenarios can be developed, applied and validated within the issue-domain of sustainable consumption, more particularly of sustainable food consumption. During this phase, three scenarios were collaboratively built during a series of participatory workshops with representatives of the main food regime stakeholders. Each of the scenarios was linked to one amongst three strategies for a sustainable consumption, namely the “eco-efficency” (reducing the ecological load per unit of consumption), “decommodification” (reducing the weight of market forces in the determination of consumption) and “sufficiency” (reducing the weight of consumerism) strategies.

The phase 2 (2009-2011) of the CONSENTSUS project concentrated on the exploration and analysis of system innovations in household consumption patterns. As an operational starting point the project oriented its exploration onto the level of what could be termed being existing ‘niches of systemic socio-technical innovation in consumption’, i.e. with a case study on one particular niche: local food networks. The workplan for phase 2 was as follows:

WP5 focused on the implications of ‘system innovations’ on everyday life, i.e. at the individual consumer level. WP6 developed a construction of qualitative-quantitative knowledge (i.e. data) on the dynamics and representations of existing consumption niches in the area of the project, i.e. on local food networks. WP7 explored the ‘governance of system innovation’, with ‘consumption niches’ being the empirical material used. The focus of WP7 was to explore the current governance of (what was identified as) existing system innovations in the realm of consumption; i.e. the governance of a consumption niche. Questions of importance were: can alternative consumption niches be influenced and steered by a range of societal actors, amongst which governments?  Which policy tools and instruments are deployable?  How are these fitting to the Belgian context? Similarly to the focus in WP5, WP7 focused on the question of how governance approaches to niches can be applied to consumers and consumption.



The project was coordinated by ULB (for its second phase), and realized in collaboration with :

- Erik Paredis and Maarten Crivits, Centrum voor Duurzame Ontwikkeling, Universiteit Gent, Belgium.

- Paul-Marie Boulanger, Anne-Laurence Lefin and Coline Ruwet, Institut pour un Développement Durable.


Politique Scientifique Fédérale Belge - Belspo

Publication(s) liée(s) au projet

Research tasks of ULB (2010-2011) - The governance of niches

System innovations and transitions in the realm of sustainable consumption policies will seldom emerge automatically from the present socio-political context. And, where some change towards more sustainable consumption patterns occurs, it might not infer the necessary structural system innovations, but remains restricted to mere system optimizations (Tukker et al. 2007). Consequently, there are repetitive calls (Voss et al. 2006; Meadowcroft et al. 2005; Rip 2006;…) to develop ways to (pro)actively steer transitions, i.e. to develop and implement forms of governance of transitions. This transition governance towards sustainable development has been delineated by Tukker (et al. 2007 : 95) as “the art of stimulating a window of opportunity for take-off and influencing the direction of change”, and more generically as “the processes of socio-political governance oriented towards the attainment of sustainable development. It encompasses public debate, political decision-making, policy formation and implementation, and complex interactions among public authorities, private business and civil society (…)” (Meadowcroft 2008 : 107). More specifically, the steering of transitions has been depicted to be necessarily reflexive (Voss et al. 2006) or ‘non-modernist’ (Rip 2006). One particular form of thinking and implementing such a reflexive governance scheme is posed with the Transition Management approach (Loorbach 2007).

Work package 7 will explore these issues related to the governance of transitions and system innovations, and elaborate on their application to the relatively unexplored (Shove and Walker 2007) governance of sustainable consumption patterns. Through the discussion on steering and conducting transitions, i.e. its focus on implementing new modes of consumption on a societal level, work package 7 will furthermore submit its conclusions and recommendations to a policy dialogue with Belgian policy makers.