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  • PhD Orientation Proposal: Exploring Sustainable Lifestyles

    Abstract

    In this orientation proposal I want to outline my interests and motivations for a PhD in the research area of sustainable lifestyles. I will be reviewing the research foci of three different research institutes: (1) The Collaborative Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production, (2) the Future Food interdisciplinary research initiative at Utrecht University, and (3) the Strategic Communication Group at Wageningen University. I will contextualise their research activities with my own interests to provide research questions for prospective investigation.

    Introduction

    I am a sustainable development student with a background in energy and resources. Throughout my two years Master programme I discovered my interest in the dynamics between sustainability issues, technological solutions, human behaviour and lifestyles. In my master thesis I am currently investigating how daily practices of Dutch households affect food wastage and assess its environmental implications. Throughout my entire work I hold the core premise that successful sustainable development requires both technological innovation along with fundamental individual lifestyle changes towards a mindful adoption of sufficiency practices. Driven by curiosity and passion, together with my colleague and friend Jonas Wolterstorff we want to better understand the reasons that hinder or impede people to adopt sustainable lifestyles.

    Aside this background, the main challenge that I would like to devote a prospective PhD to is as follows:

    How can the adoption of sustainable, sufficient lifestyles amongst large parts of industrialised societies be facilitated to cope with grand societal challenges?

    In the following sections I would like to outline my interest of a PhD in the research area of several research institutions that fit my aforementioned interests.

    Archetypes of passive citizens who are not engaged in adopting sustainable lifestyles (Orzanna, Wolterstorff).

    Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP)

    Motivation

    The CSCP is a spin-off of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, one of the leading applied research institutes for sustainability in Germany. Whilst sustainability research is a broad interdisciplinary field, the CSCP specifically focuses on sustainable consumption and production. The CSCP is organised into three groups: (i) sustainable lifestyles, (ii) sustainable infrastructure and services, (iii) sustainable business and entrepreneurship.

    Group research summary

    For a prospective PhD research I am particularly interested in the sustainable lifestyles group. The group has defined five main research foci. Firstly, it investigates communication strategies to co-create visions of more sustainable living by involving decision-makers, stakeholders and the public in order to rethink how more sustainable ways of living could be enabled. Secondly, the group explores trends and options for sustainable living practice across different household segments, regions and contexts. Thereby it also investigates societal actors and stakeholder groups that influence how people live their lives, and how these actors can be engaged in order to collaboratively work on solutions. Thirdly, through empirical evaluations the group analyses pathways to scale up current promising sustainable lifestyle practices. Fourthly, and closely related to the previous focus, it prototypes sustainable living experiences (living lab), e.g. resulting from co-creation processes, and subsequently test triggers to behaviour change. Lastly, the research of the group is used to provide a platform and network of partners and stakeholders for knowledge sharing and collaborative approaches to inspire action.

    Choice of research subject and group

    I met several researchers of the group at the 6th Sustainability Summer School in Barcelona in November 2014. Since my deep interest is on understanding daily behaviour of people, we discussed possible projects in which I could contribute to a better understanding of how a sustainable life is to be co-defined to be widely adopted by people in industrialised societies. My contact person is Michael Kuhndt, head of the CCSP. He is currently involved in the launch of a new collaborative research project with a large German food retail chain. This chain has a market share of more than 40% and can thus reach a large part of the German society. Within this experimental research design I would like to investigate the following question:

    1. How can the food retail industry stimulate people to adopt a less environmentally intensive diet and sustain it over the long-term?