Possibilities and problems with applying a consumption perspective in local climate strategies - the case of Gothenburg, Sweden

Hult, A. & Larsson, J. (2016) Possibilities and problems with applying a consumption perspective in local climate strategies - the case of Gothenburg, Sweden. Journal of cleaner production 134 (2016) 434-442

Publication type
Scientific article (peer-reviewed)
WISE Well-being in Sustainable cities
Journal of Cleaner Production
Published year
climate change consumption Gothenburg



Sweden has been praised for its sustainability efforts and decreasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
When nations and urban districts publicize their low GHG emissions, these emissions are often based on
a production perspective including only emissions occurring within their geographical boundary. If
instead a consumption perspective is applied then all emissions attributable to the inhabitants consumption
patterns, no matter where they occur, are included, e.g. from imported goods and air travel.
This provides new outlooks on sustainability, from this perspective Swedish emissions have increased
rather than decreased in the last decades. Swedish researchers and the Swedish Environmental Protection
Agency propose that the production perspective should be complemented with a consumption
perspective to describe more fairly who is responsible for what emissions. The purpose of this paper is to
examine how a consumption perspective on GHG emissions has gained ground in Sweden, specifically in
the new Strategic Climate Program of the City of Gothenburg, discussing what municipal strategies and
environmental discourses this perspective enhances. Applying actorenetwork theory, we found three
common features of importance for Sweden, and the City of Gothenburg, supporting the consumption
perspective to gain ground. One is the existence of long-term environmental goals that facilitate this
perspective. The other features are the existence of civil servants as drivers and the use of calculations
from legitimate “fact builders.” We conclude that a consumption perspective strengthens the environmental
justice discourse (as it claims to be a more just way of calculating global and local environmental
effects) while possibly also increasing an individualized environmental discourse (as many municipal
strategies aim to inform and influence the public to make lifestyle changes on their own). We argue that
a consumption perspective is necessary in order to fully address environmental problems and to highlight
issues of justice and responsibility. At the same time, this kind of eco-governmentality might lead to
individualized self-governed climate subjects with outlooks that are too limited to foster change of
dominant everyday practices.

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