Towards a society of sobriety

Conditions for a change in consumer behavior

Valérie Guillard
Professor at Paris-Dauphine University

The negative impact our lifestyles have on the environment means we have to think beyond the circular economy (reuse, recycle, eco-design) and imagine lifestyles marked by greater sobriety. Sobriety is a lifestyle that involves not just consuming better but also, and critically, consuming less. It can be expressed in consumption of energy and digital technologies as well as via material objects. Making the commitment and embracing sobriety to live a more sober life are ways of living that are conditioned by changes in practices on the part of consumers, the units analyzed in this article, at every stage of the consumption process (perception and sensation of need, products purchases and places of purchase, use and non-use of objects, dispossession).

Changing your habits as a consumer entails seeking meaning through other ways of doing and being, which requires revisiting, or even initiating, relationships with objects, the self and others. Sobriety places notions of conscience at the center of relationships with the world, alongside the effort and determination involved in challenging personal and social norms.

Organizations, both public (local authorities, for example) and private (non-profits and businesses), could offer a range of mechanisms, products and services to restore to consumers the skills needed for this lifestyle (the knowledge, know-how and attitudes) as well as the opportunity to pursue it. Sobriety should be a space within which consumers and organizations alike can find fulfilment.