Transitions in sociotechnical conditions that afford usership: Sustainable who?

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Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Product Design, 2017, pp. 349-358
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© 2017 selection and editorial matter, Jonathan Chapman; individual chapters, the contributors. While sustainable design strives for quantifiable change, it has a history of ending up advocating for radical socioeconomic change. For instance, life cycle assessment (LCA) research pushed sustainable design researchers to promote systems of shared product use as a way of radically reducing the materials intensity of society. Initial efforts toward these ‘product service systems’ in the mid-2000s proved premature. This chapter describes more recent changes to information technologies and their use within consumer societies that appear to be more compatible with ‘sharing economies’. Pathways for transitioning toward more sustainable ways of resourcing everyday life appear to be opening up. However, these opportunities are not without their own dangers: lifestyles structured around ‘usership’ rather than ownership may be less materials intense, but also less autonomous. Designers have considerable power in determining which way ‘sharing economies’ turn.
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