Sustainable Materialism

Authors: David Schlosberg and Luke Craven

A growing number of environmental groups focus on more sustainable practices in everyday life, from the development of new food systems, to community solar, to more sustainable fashion. No longer willing to take part in unsustainable practices and institutions, and not satisfied with either purely individualistic and consumer responses or standard political processes and movement tactics, many activists and groups are increasingly focusing on restructuring everyday practices of the circulation of the basic needs of everyday life. This work labels such action sustainable materialism, and examines the political and social motivations of activists and movement groups involved in this growing and expanding practice. The central argument is that these movements are motivated by four key factors: frustration with the lack of accomplishments on broader environmental policies, a desire for environmental and social justice, an active and material resistance to the power of traditional industries, and a form of sustainability that is attentive to the flow of materials through bodies, communities, economies, and environments. In addition to these motivations, these movements demonstrate such material action as political action, in contrast to existing critiques of new materialism as apolitical or post-political. Overall, sustainable materialism is explored as a set of movements with unique qualities, based in collective rather than individual action, a dedication to local and prefigurative politics, and a demand that sustainability be practiced in everyday life – starting with the materials and flows that provide food, power, clothing, and other basic needs.