First Advisor

Loren Lutzenhiser

Date of Publication

Summer 8-7-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Sustainable living -- Oregon -- Portland -- Case studies, Home economics -- Oregon -- Portland -- Case studies, Social ecology, Refuse and refuse disposal, Green movement



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 315 pages)


Over the past half-century, environmental problems have become increasingly serious and seemingly intractable, and a careless, clueless, or contemptuous consumer is often portrayed as the root cause of this environmental decline. This study takes a different approach to evaluating the demand for resources by households, assessing possible pro-environmental paths forward through a study of highly ecologically-conscious households. By modeling "green" households as producers of sustainability rather than consumers of environmental products, the sustainability work that takes place in households is brought into focus. An investigation of household sustainability production makes possible the evaluation of the trade-offs inherent in these pro-environmental activities.

Ethnographic interviews with 23 sustainability-oriented households with young children living in and near Portland, Oregon, provide data on how households balance priorities and get things done in day-to-day life by employing the available resources, limited by constraining factors. An orienting perspective combining neoclassical and radical political economic theories of household production frames the analysis of how households make choices between alternatives. Sociological theories of consumption and theories of social practice aid in the analysis of how these choices have evolved over time, and how household members view the social meanings of these choices. Particular attention is paid to areas of day-to-day life neglected in previous research--household waste, comfort, and cleanliness.

The results indicate that there is not one "sustainability" with varying degrees across a "green" spectrum, but rather varying priorities in the sustainability realm--personal health, nature, waste avoidance, technology, and community. This analysis reveals some of the negative consequences of shifting the responsibility for environmental protection to households. Ecologically-conscious households devote substantial time and money to these sustainability efforts, but their efforts frequently stimulate conflicts, and the end results are rarely perfect. Constrained resources and limited information mean household members must make trade-offs between competing priorities, often under duress. The results suggest that policies promoting household-level sustainability efforts may be misguided, as this transfer of institutional responsibility for environmental protection to individuals and groups results in even greater burdens on households, whose time and money are already stretched to their limits.


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