A proposal of personal competencies for sustainable consumption

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


Purpose: Despite advances in Environmental and Sustainability Education (ESE) scholarship and practice, ESE has not yet contributed to mitigate the sustainability-related problems it is meant to remedy. As part of an explanation, some scholars have argued that current ESE scholarship and practice overemphasizes intellectual and neglects (intra-)personal competencies as envisaged learning outcomes of ESE learning programs and activities. To date, however, such personal competencies have not been systematically specified in terms of the challenges they are meant to respond to. This paper aims to derive personal competencies from an analysis of inner challenges individuals face when engaging with the cause of sustainable consumption. Design/methodology/approach: The study is conceptual and proceeds in two steps: In the first step, it analyzes existing research on challenges individuals experience when intending to change their consumer behavior and engaging in consumption-related learning activities. In a second step, a set of personal competencies for sustainable consumption are derived from the analysis of challenges. Based on the set of competencies, suggestions for future research empirically corroborating the reflections of this paper are made. Findings: The discussion of challenges indicates that both sustainable consumption and consumption-related learning activities can come along with a series of affective-motivational challenges. In contrast to established competency frameworks, personal competencies emphasize the importance of affective-motivational learning outcomes instead of intellectual ones. They are defined here as abilities, proficiencies or skills related to inner states and processes that can be considered necessary to engage with the cause of sustainability. Personal competencies responding to the inner challenges of engaging with sustainable consumption include ethics, self-awareness, emotional resilience, self-care, access to and cultivation of ethical qualities and mindsets for sustainability. Research limitations/implications: Given that this paper is conceptual, further research is needed to empirically inquire into the importance of personal competencies for sustainable consumption and corroborate the provided reflections. Furthermore, the study has not responded to some of the concerns a few ESE experts have expressed concerning the concept of (intra-)personal competencies more generally. To address these concerns, future research should be dedicated to empirically validating and operationalizing personal competencies, eventually leading to tools allowing for a systematic assessment of these competencies. Based on such assessment tools, pedagogical formats should be elaborated and evaluated with regard to their potential to stimulate personal sustainability competencies. Originality/value: The concept of personal competencies explicitly acknowledges that current unsustainability is associated with the experience of inner, affective-motivational challenges. ESE learning programs and activities should prepare learners for these challenges. However, a specification of these inner challenges and corresponding personal competencies has not yet been undertaken. The set of personal competencies outlined in this paper can serve as a first starting point for specifying personal sustainability competencies and makes a case why their consideration is important when it comes to designing and evaluating ESE learning programs and activities.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1225-1245
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 30.08.2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Disclosure statement : The author declares no conflict of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited.