Building common cause towards sustainable consumption: A cross-generational perspective

Publication authors

Kristina Diprose, Gill Valentine, Robert M Vanderbeck, Chen Liu, Katie McQuaid


The notion of sustainable consumption has gained significant traction in recent decades, in parallel with unprecedented growth in global consumption and recognition of its catastrophic environmental impacts. In this context, there is a predominant generational narrative of frugality versus excess, with younger generations often negatively stereotyped as increasingly consumer-driven and environmentally destructive. We argue that it is important to develop a more nuanced understanding of generational difference, drawing on findings from a cross-generational study in Sheffield, UK, involving participants from the ages of 16–96. The aim of this research was to explore how citizens relate to the idea of sustainable consumption across generations, acknowledging but also seeking to look beyond the common tropes of thrift and the throwaway society. We draw on theories of intergenerational value change and consider how insights from the Common Cause framework, which encourages pro-environmental campaigners to make broad appeals to engage a range of intrinsic values, may be applied to sustainable consumption. In doing so, we reflect on the merits of adopting an expansive definition of sustainable consumption that encompasses the three pillars of sustainability – economic stability, environmental protection and human wellbeing – and identify insights from our research for campaigners and policy makers interested in working with intrinsic values to build common cause across generations.