Promoting sustainable consumption in China: a conceptual framework and research review

Wenling Liu*, Peter Oosterveer, Gert Spaargaren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Various theories and approaches have been introduced in the debate on how to address sustainable consumption. In this study, we first discuss different theoretical perspectives on sustainable consumption, particularly developed in the fields of economics, social psychology and environmental sociology. We argue that neither an ‘individualist’ nor a system- or structural perspective alone is sufficient for understanding and analysing the transition towards sustainable consumption. Therefore, we propose to apply the Social Practices Approach (SPA) that combines both human agency and social structures to understand sustainable consumption issues. Following the SPA framework, we review and summarize research on sustainable consumption in China in particular on three consumption fields: food, housing energy and mobility. It is found that introducing more efficient production technology is commonly taken as the focal point in these sectors when sustainable consumption was introduced to China. Despite a rising interest in consumers' perceptions of products' sustainability in recent years, research has rarely paid any attention to consumers' behavioural change or to the transition dynamics towards sustainable consumption. In general, ‘individualist’ perspectives have largely dominated Chinese sustainable consumption research. This paper proposes to move attention to a better understanding of Chinese consumption issues by emphasizing the link between the provision of sustainable products and the diverse sustainable consumption practices. Also, images of food, energy, mobility and other consumption products that are undergoing transitions need to be considered in future research as these have consequences for socio-technical changes, material infrastructures and for ‘lifestyle’ innovations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-21
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • China
  • Food
  • Housing
  • Mobility
  • Research agenda
  • Sustainable consumption


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