From locked-down to locked-in? COVID-induced social practice change across four consumption domains

Simona Zollet*, Julia Siedle, Miriam Bodenheimer, Steven McGreevy, Caroline Boules, Clemens Brauer, Md Habibur Rahman, Christoph D. D. Rupprecht, Johannes Schuler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
51 Downloads (Pure)


The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everyday living and social practices, prompting questions of whether more sustainable consumption patterns are emerging and the likelihood of their long-term retention. To examine these questions, we apply a practice-based approach to a quantitative study of COVID-driven practice changes in the domains of food, material consumption, housing, and mobility conducted in four global North countries (Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States). We discuss the trends emerging from our analysis from a sustainability perspective and address the role of social practice elements – materials, meanings, competences – in the establishment and discontinuation of sustainable consumption practices. Observed sustainability gains in specific practices and domains (such as a decrease in material consumption and more sustainable food practices and diets), may be offset by other practices, particularly a renewed desire for air travel and larger housing. The uptake and lock-in of sustainable practices are driven by a combination of meaning and material-related practice elements such as the alignment with interests and personal values; the availability of labor, energy, or time; and the ability to routinize practices. However, new policies to support emerging lifestyle shifts, as well as the development of businesses catering to and encouraging low-impact practices, may ultimately determine the formation of a more sustainable “new normal.” We also reflect on the strengths and limitations of using quantitative research methods in studies of sustainable consumption informed by social practice theories.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)796-821
Number of pages26
JournalSustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy
Issue number1
Early online date26 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2022


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