Expanding Research Agenda for Sustainable Consumption and Social Institutions: A Case of South Africa

Expanding Research Agenda for Sustainable Consumption and Social Institutions: A Case of South Africa

Neha Purushottam (University of South Africa, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7906-9.ch013
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Sustainable development is part of the developmental agenda for developed and developing countries both. For developing countries, growth is critical but resource consuming. Therefore, it is important to ensure equitable growth in these countries without degradation of natural and social environment and resources. Sustainable consumption and production both are part of Sustainable Development Goal 12. Mostly countries focus on the production rather than on the consumption, which needs to be changed. South Africa faces challenges of under-consumption in lower income classes and over-consumption in affluent and aspiring middle classes. Examination of institutional actors highlights the gap, which can be filled by social institutions. Social institutions are active and growing in South Africa and were identified suitable to promote sustainable consumption through cooperation, collaboration, and partnerships. This chapter attempts to expand the research agenda to examine the role and potential of social institutions in facilitating sustainable consumption in a developing country like South Africa.
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Food, water and energy security forms the basis of a resilient economy, but as a water-scarce country with little arable land and a dependence on coal-fired power and oil imports, South Africa’s economy is testing the limits of its resources constraints. (p4, Von Bormann, and Gulati, 2014).

South Africa is one of the two largest economies of Africa and together with Nigeria “account for 50% of the continent’s GDP in 2017” (p11, Euromonitor, 2018). South Africa is witnessing growth in population and affluence. However, South Africa has highest level of inequality in the world with “consumption expenditure Gini coefficient 0.63 in 2015” (p60, The World Bank, 2018). It is one of the nine African economies which are consuming resources beyond their capacity (United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 2009). It is almost unique country in Africa in the sense that it is democratic, has strong judiciary, advanced baking system and good infrastructure but also has high number of low income households with unemployment around 27% (p23, Euromonitor International, 2018). The report also highlights an interesting point that South Africa has poor youth and rich population of 65 plus age group. Interestingly this inequality between rich and poor in South Africa is growing (Sulla and Zikhali, 2018). South Africa, like any other developing countries is continuously under international pressure to ensure that its economic growth is equitable and the growth is decoupled with degradation of natural and social environment and resources does not happen (UNEP, 2014). South Africa is facing complex and contradictory sustainability problems; therefore there is an urgent need for more integrative and comprehensive approaches to ensure progress towards sustainability goals. For developing country like South Africa finding a balance between economic growth and sustainable development is a must.

In African cities growing middle class is attracted to “western consumption patterns such as private car ownership, increased meat consumption, and emergence of low-density detached housing developments in sub-urban areas” (p4, UN Economic and Social Council, 2009). Same is true for South African consumers who are identified price conscious but aspirational with affinity towards brands (Euromonitor International, 2018). Adding challenge to this situation is issue of urbanization which affects consumption and in Africa the growth of urbanization is the highest in the world at “3.5 percent per year” (UN Economic and Social Council, 2009). In developing countries like South Africa, growing aspirational middle class and urbanization along with inequality and materialistic tendencies is a critical challenge to the sustainable development (UN DESA, 2013; Staniškis, 2012; Assadourian, 2010; Dauvergne, 2010; UN Economic and Social Council, 2009). Like many African countries, South Africa witnesses hyper or over-consumption among affluent class and under-consumption among poor (Spangenberg, 2014; Zhao & Schroeder, 2010; UN Economic and Social Council, 2009). In the country, the growing affluence among middle and higher income class is contributing to the materialistic and wasteful consumption, unhealthy lifestyle and aspiration for holistic well-being (Schaefer & Crane 2005; Staniškis, 2012, World Economic Forum, 2013). At the other side of it, is the population of poor which do not have sufficient access to resources, lacks food security and struggle for basic necessities (Dauvergne, 2010; UN Economic and Social Council, 2009). The unsustainability of consumption creates more pressure on poor by restricting their ‘ecological spaces’ (p8, UN Economic and Social Council, 2009). Therefore, for South Africa, it is absolutely essential to make sure to achieve equity in consumption across classes (affluent and poor) and geographies (urban and rural) and to ensure inclusive growth.

Key Terms in this Chapter

South Africa: An African emerging market economy with around 56 million people, South Africa is complex due to its political history, young democracy, and inequality of wealth and income.

Sustainable Consumption (at Macro Level): It is a complex and dynamic concept that ensures equity of consumption; absence of hyper/over-consumption and under-consumption; minimization of ecological cost and its equal distribution in society now and in future.

Sustainable Consumption (at Micro Level/Individual Level): Consumption process that is incurred to satisfy needs, which improves quality of life, which incur minimal environment cost, which does not compromise with social equity.

Consumption: It is a dynamic, socio-cultural, multifaceted process that covers the act of needing, searching, obtaining, utilizing, and disposing, through which value is created and consumers’ needs are satisfied.

Social Institutions: An organization without business and government ownership consisting group of people striving for some social, religious, spiritual, community, environmental goals.

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