Coming to Grips with Sustainable Practices: Where Do We Go from Here? 2

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 26 Jan 2009 17:00:00 GMT

What are the forces that shaped consumer culture in the U.S.? How does per capita consumption in the U.S. compare with that of other countries, especially in the realm of energy usage? What impact has consumerism had on resources and living standards in the U.S. and elsewhere? What are the implications of maintaining our present level of consumption? What are the implications of other countries aspiring to levels of per capita consumption on a par with ours? How might our society begin to identify and embrace more sustainable habits and practices, and what might such practices be? What policy steps might the new Administration and Congress consider codifying in the interest of promoting a more sustainable lifestyle and economy?


Dr. Anthony Socci, Senior Science Fellow, American Meteorological Society

  • Dr. Juliet B. Schor, Professor of Sociology, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
  • Betsy Taylor, Consultant, Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions, Strategic & Philanthropic Consulting on Climate Solutions & Sustainable Development, Takoma Park, MD

Program Summary

Sustainability, Consumption and the Path Forward

At the center of the US ecological dilemma lies consumption. We have been a consumer nation for more than a century, having made a directed choice in the 1930s toward that path. Today, in the midst of the simultaneous crises of the economy and the environment, we are again faced with choices about how to move forward. Although it has gotten far less attention, business-as-usual spending is as problematic as BAU energy use. The US ecological footprint, which is twice the level of comparably rich European countries, exceeds the equitable global sustainability level by a factor of 5. Rising per capita consumption underlies the ecological overshoot of the world economy, which now exceeds biological capacity by 40%. In the United States, inflated-adjusted personal consumption expenditures increased 88% from 1973 to 2003, which resulted in a 37% rise in our ecological footprint. This is important because it has accompanied decades of attempts to save energy and de-materialize production, all of which have proved inadequate. Fortunately, there is increasing awareness of these issues, and a grassroots movement to transform consumer patterns and habits is underway. However, it has had virtually no legislative presence to date.

In Dr. Schor’s presentation, the issue of consumption will be placed into its historical and comparative context. New data will be presented on the magnitude of the ‘cheap import’ boom in material (and therefore ecological terms) over the last 15 years. Underlying economic factors such as labor market policies and the distribution of income affect the path of consumption and ecological impact. A medium term consumption path will be sketched out, which yields high levels of human well-being, is becoming broadly popular, and is ecologically sustainable.

Ms. Taylor will discuss an array of policy instruments that could promote a more sustainable standard of living and more sustainable consumerism. In the lead-up to address climate change through cap & trade or carbon fees, it would serve our collective interests to simultaneously address the root causes of ecological degradation and collapse. Ms. Taylor will also call for a rekindled debate on policies and programs that might steer our economy and culture in a more sustainable and durable direction. Biographies

Dr. Juliet Schor is Professor of Sociology at Boston College. Her most recent book is, Born to Buy: the Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture (Scribner, September 2004). She is also author of the national best-seller, The Overworked American: the Unexpected Decline of Leisure (Basic Books, 1992) and The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need. The Overworked American appeared on the best seller lists of The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, the Chicago Tribune, the Village Voice, the Boston Globe as well as the annual best books list for the New York Times, Business Week and other publications. The book is widely credited for influencing the national debate on work and family. Schor also the author of Do Americans Shop Too Much?, co-editor of Consumer Society: A Reader (The New Press 2000) and co-editor, with Betsy Taylor of Sustainable Planet: Solutions for the Twenty-first Century (Beacon Press 2002). Dr. Schor is currently working on a book on issues of environmental sustainability and their relation to American lifestyles which will be published by The Penguin Press next year. She is a co-founder and co-chair of the Board of the Center for a New American Dream (, a national sustainability organization headquartered in Maryland.

A graduate of Wesleyan University, Dr. Schor received her Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts. Before joining Boston College, she taught at Harvard University for 17 years, in the Department of Economics, and the Committee on Degrees in Women’s Studies. Her scholarly articles have appeared in professional venues such as the Economic Journal, The Review of Economics and Statistics, World Development, Industrial Relations, The Journal of Economic Psychology, Ecological Economics, The Journal of Industrial Ecology, Social Problems and others. Dr. Schor has also served as a consultant to the United Nations, at the World Institute for Development Economics Research, and to the United Nations Development Program. She was a fellow at the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1995-1996 for a project entitled “New Analyses of Consumer Society”. In 1998 Dr. Schor received the George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contributions to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language from the National Council of Teachers of English. In 2006 she received the Leontief Prize from the Global Development and Economics Institute at Tufts University for expanding the frontiers of economic thought.

Dr. Schor has lectured widely throughout the United States, Europe and Japan to a variety of civic, business, labor and academic groups. She appears frequently on national and international media, and profiles on her and her work have appeared in scores of magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and People magazine. She has appeared on 60 Minutes, the Today Show, Good Morning America, The Early Show on CBS, numerous stories on network news, as well as many other national and local television news programs.

Betsy Taylor is the principal consultant with Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions, a consulting firm that serves clients dedicated to addressing climate change and promoting sustainable economic practices & policies. She is co-founder and Board President of 1Sky ( a national campaign created in 2007 to focus the power of millions of concerned Americans on a single goal: federal actions by 2010 that can effectively address global warming and create five million green jobs. She co-founded and served as president of the Center for a New American Dream ( a national organization that helps Americans live and consume prudently in the interest of a more sustainable world and improving the quality of life. During her tenure at CNAD, the Center launched the Responsible Purchasing Network, an association of socially and environmentally responsible purchasers representing over fifty billion dollars in buying power. The effort earned numerous awards, including being named in Washingtonian Magazine’s as one of the top fifty places to work in the D.C. metropolitan area. Betsy has appeared frequently on national television and radio and is the co-editor and author of Sustainable Planet: Solutions for the 21st Century. She previously served as Executive Director of the Merck Family Fund, Stern Family Fund, and Ottinger Foundation and has consulted with numerous foundations and donors. She has an M.P.A. from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a B.A. from Duke University.