Degrowth Implies Voluntary Simplicity: Overcoming Barriers to Sustainable Consumption

17 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2012

See all articles by Samuel Alexander

Samuel Alexander

University of Melbourne - Office for Environmental Programs; Simplicity Institute

Date Written: February 23, 2012


This paper explores how consumer societies are structurally set up to oppose practices of sustainable consumption and how those structural obstacles could be overcome.

Our lifestyle decisions, especially our consumption decisions, are not made in a vacuum. Instead, they are made within social, economic, and political structures of constraint, and those structures make some lifestyle decisions easy or necessary and other lifestyle decisions difficult or impossible. Change the social, economic, and political structures, however, and different consumption practices would or could emerge. With a practical focus, this paper examines the extent to which people in consumer societies are ‘locked in’ to high consumption, energy-intensive lifestyles, and it explores ways that structural changes could facilitate a societal transition to practices of more sustainable consumption.

This subject should be of interest to all those broadly engaged in work on sustainability. But it should be of particular interest to those who have been convinced that the richest nations, if indeed they are serious about realising a sustainable world, ought to be initiating a degrowth process of planned economic contraction, with the aim of moving toward a socially desirable, ecologically sustainable, steady state economy. A degrowth or steady state economy will never emerge voluntarily within societies that are generally comprised of individuals seeking ever-higher levels of income and consumption. It follows that any transition to such an economy will depend upon people in those societies transitioning away from consumer lifestyles and embracing lifestyles of reduced and restrained consumption.

Keywords: sustainable consumption, voluntary simplicity, degrowth, post-growth, consumerism

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Samuel, Degrowth Implies Voluntary Simplicity: Overcoming Barriers to Sustainable Consumption (February 23, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Samuel Alexander (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Office for Environmental Programs ( email )

185 Pelham Street
Carlton, Victoria 3053

Simplicity Institute


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