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Beyond technology: Towards sustainability through behavioral transitions

Working Paper presented at the 7th International Sustainability Transitions (IST) Conference, September 8, 2016, Wuppertal Institut, Wuppertal, Germany
: Bodenheimer, Miriam

Fulltext urn:nbn:de:0011-n-4189820 (1.2 MByte PDF)
MD5 Fingerprint: 4a4af18db071742b557e976eef3f2fcc
Created on: 5.11.2016

2016, 38 pp.
International Sustainability Transitions Conference (IST) <7, 2016, Wuppertal>
Presentation, Electronic Publication
Fraunhofer ISI ()
multi-level perspective; sustainability transitions; issue lifecycles; behavioral models

Globalization in the production process of consumer goods has led to the creation of complex global production networks (GPNs) whose early stages are often characterized by poor working conditions, leading to considerable reputational risk for brandname firms. An extensive focus on social sustainability in GPNs is still rare. From a theoretical perspective, comprehensive approaches to enshrine social sustainability in GPNs can be seen as niche social innovations, while a shift from current operational practices to more socially sustainable ones can be considered a transition, in the sense of the Multi-Level Perspective (MLP). Transition theories, like the MLP approach, have to date had a strong focus on technological transitions. However, sustainability transit-ions often require a change in behavior rather than in technology, so that technological innovations are not necessarily an effective approach to achieving greater sustainability. This is particularly true in the context of social sustainability, where the focus of transitions needs to be first and foremost on changing attitudes and the criteria used for decision-making, rather than on changing the technology employed. This paper presents a heterodox and heuristic approach to analyze what we will call behavioral transitions to sustainability (BTS). We suggest that an analysis of BTS using the birds-eye view approach of the MLP can lead to valuable insights both for the BT Sand for further advancing the study of sustainability transitions in general. However, as “an abstract analytical framework that identifies relations between general theoretical principles and mechanisms,” (Geels, Schot 2010, p. 19) the MLP cannot be used to study specific details of the processes and interactions taking place during a transition. Complementary theories are needed to operationalize the MLP, which has already been done for the study of more traditional (technological) applications of the MLP, but to a far lesser degree for the analysis of BTS. This paper seeks to address this gap in the current literature by introducing an operationalize able heuristic model for the study of BTS using a combination of the MLP, the Dialectic Issue Lifecycles model (Geels, Penna 2015) and two models of behavioral change. In a future step, this new model will then be applied to case studies of transitions towards greater social sustainability in global production networks.