Sustainable Consumption and Social Institutions: Setting a Research Agenda for India

Sustainable Consumption and Social Institutions: Setting a Research Agenda for India

Neha Purushottam (University of South Africa, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0282-1.ch018
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Sustainable development has been identified as a strategic priority for both developed and developing countries. The role of sustainable consumption in addressing challenges of sustainable development is undisputed Developing country context is complex due to simultaneous presence of hyper/over-consumption and under-consumption in different sections of society. Efforts to address sustainable consumption cover initiatives by individual consumers, business sector, governments, education and media institutions. It emerged that addressing sustainable consumption in the current times requires multiplicity of approaches, collaboration of multiple institutions and coordination, synergy and cohesiveness among various institutions. Social institutions were identified perfect fit for the purpose. This chapter intends to establish research agenda to explore possibilities for social institutions in propagating sustainable consumption in India.
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If ‘sufficient’ prosperity, distributive justice and ecological survival are the goals, business-as-usual is not an option for India. – p 87, Shrivastava 2014

India is the second most populous country in the world with its 1.3 billion population which accounts for around 18 per cent of the world’s population (UN DESA population division, 2015). The gravity of situation can be understood by the fact that “by 2050 the world population is set to exceed 9 billion, with over 95 percent of this increase occurring in developing countries like Indonesia, India, and China” (p5, Dauvergne, 2010). India is also a growing economy which was the third largest in the world in 2014, on a purchasing power parity basis, as its GDP was USD 7.39 trillion (World Bank, 2015). Economic growth has contributed to poverty reduction but has also contributed to the growth in inequalities (Shrivastava 2014), rising CO2 emission and pollution levels (TERI, 2011; Hubacek, Guan & Barua, 2007) and put natural ecosystem and social and physical infrastructure under pressure (Kothari, 2014). Growth in population, income and urbanization accompanied with income disparities and unequal distribution of wealth are posing serious challenges to the sustainable development, in India and in other developing countries (UN DESA, 2013; Staniškis, 2012; Assadourian, 2010; Dauvergne, 2010; Gadgil & Guha, 1994). These issues combined with poor environmental quality, infrastructure shortage and diverse Eco-zones make India vulnerable to climate change (TERI, 2011). India has witnessed impact of climate change through the episodes of rising temperatures, uncertainty of monsoon, flooding, soil erosion and growing levels of pollution (Shrivastava, 2014).

It is also important to mention that for developing countries, economic well-being of their citizens is a must and consumption of resources is critical for economic development (Ekins & Lemaire, 2012). This means that India has to invest in its economic growth. However, India like any other developing country is continuously under international pressure to start “decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation and natural resource use” (p40, UNEP, 2014) to ensure real progress towards sustainability and sustainable development.

This background indicates that for a massive and diverse country like India which is facing complex and contradictory sustainability problems, there is an urgent need for more integrative and comprehensive approaches to ensure progress towards sustainability goals. It also indicates that for developing country like India finding a balance between economic growth and sustainable development is a must. Investing in sustainable consumption may help India in finding this balance (Cohen, 2005).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sustainable Consumption (at Macro Level): A complex and dynamic concept which 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 which is incurred to satisfy needs, which improves quality of life, which incur minimal environment cost, which does not compromise with social equity.

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

Consumption: A dynamic, socio-cultural, multifaceted process; which covers act of needing, searching, obtaining, utilising and disposing; through which value is created and consumers’ needs are satisfied.

India: A South Asian emerging market economy with around 1.2 billion population, India is complex and full of extremes w.r.t. consumption due to its fast growing middle class and growing income inequality.

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