January 15, 2016

Benchmarking Overview

Teaching sustainable consumption: overview of the benchmarking exercise

A benchmarking exercise is underway to gauge how “sustainable consumption” is being taught around the world. Below is an overview of this effort. To view all courses and more detailed materials, click here.

Overview of courses

In general and based on this exercise, most courses are:

  • Fairly recent (some in early 2000s; most 2012-2014)
  • Not mandatory; generally 2-3 hours per week over one semester; for 2-5 credits (ECTS, European credit system)
  • Balanced between undergrad and grad courses; in addition to teacher training (2); policy/NGO training (2)
  • Small in class size (15-25) with some in the 60-100 range
  • Consumer/consumption specific: 22
    • Social change focus: 11
    • Policy focus: 6
    • Business/marketing/design focus: 4
    • Ecological impact / lifecycle focus: 3

Main course objectives and methods

Most courses aim towards:

  • Understanding the complexity of SC in relation to different topics and approaches
  • Putting forward inter-disciplinarity: social, economic, technological, political or cultural perspectives
  • Linking theories to practice
    • Understanding different theoretical approaches to consumption
    • How companies / grassroots organizations address SC (from grassroots innovations to green marketing)
    • The role of the policy arena, the role of different actors
  • Helping students relate SC to their own lives

Main methods used:

  • Class lectures combined with active participation in the classroom
  • Lessons based on mandatory or suggested readings
  • Personal or group projects
  • Guest speakers and site visits (companies, cities, NGO’s, etc.)
  • Case studies

Course content: general focus

  • Stimulate interest in sustainable consumption
  • Provide a basic understanding of (un)sustainable consumption
  • Understand the origins of the modern consumer culture
  • Learn about major environmental issues facing the planet
  • Understand the complex drivers of consumer society (e.g., role of technology, culture, institutions and politics)
  • Relate these to environmental planning; to the policy arena; to consumer behaviours; and to social change
  • Envision a society with less consumption; how consumer culture could change; how to get to more sustainable consumption and roles of different agents

Course content: more specific…

  • Understand applied practices of environmental policy and ‘real-world’ governance.
  • Think systematically about power, politics and policymaking
  • Analyse the sometimes contradictory theories of power and social change within the sustainable consumption discourse.
  • Understand the role of ‘consumption/consumers’ and ‘consumer culture’ in environmental problems and possible levers or action
  • Assess the discourse of (un)sustainable development in scientific publications
  • Introduce the notion of ‘hyperconsumption’
  • Focus on what might constitute the ‘good life’ and introduce ‘the economics of happiness’

Course content: very specific…

  • Learn about different types of ecological impacts
  • Understand how different theoretical approaches to consumption sit together, or are conflict with each other
  • Understand sustainability in relation to product/service design; in relation to ethical marketing
  • Learn about geological processes and impacts in mining; relate mining to personal consumption.
  • Design interdisciplinary teaching units dealing with current issues of societal importance (teacher training)
  • Design and develop awareness campaigns related to sustainable consumption
  • Identify SCP problems and learn how to address them, through policy-maker training
  • Consider the policy-making process in Europe

27 institutions offer courses related to Sustainable Consumption

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