New Paper Explores (Deep) Structural Factors for Achieving a 1.5° World

Underwater, A journey of discovery
Deep Underwater, Gerald Lobenwein
Deep Underwater, Gerald Lobenwein

As global concerns about climate change continue to escalate, the need for sustainable consumption and lifestyles has become more urgent than ever. While individual behaviour change plays a critical role, it alone cannot drive the necessary changes. True sustainability requires a deeper understanding of the structures that shape our consumption patterns and the societal context in which they operate.

In a new open-access peer-reviewed paper entitled "Barriers and enablers of 1.5° lifestyles: Shallow and deep structural factors shaping the potential for sustainable consumption", Steffen Hirth, Halliki Kreinin, Doris Fuchs, Nils Blossey, Pia Mamut, Jeremy Philipp, Isabelle Radovan and the EU 1.5° Lifestyles Consortium explore the multifaceted world of structural factors influencing sustainable consumption in line with the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement. This paper is one of the first of many forth-coming peer-reviewed publications of the EU 1.5° Lifestyles project.

The complex concept of structure

The premise of the paper challenges conventional approaches to the study of structural phenomena, aiming to explicitly systematise understandings of structural factors. The term 'structure' is often used in different ways, making it a complex and fuzzy concept. While behaviour at the individual level (agency) is crucial, it is equally important to understand the broader structures in which behaviour (agency) is embedded. By acknowledging different types of structure and their potential impact on individual agency, the authors aim to provide a new way of ordering structural factors.


The researchers conducted a systematic review of the existing literature, analysing various factors that influence sustainable consumption. By combining their findings with empirical observations, they develop conceptual terms that reframe the structure-agency dilemma. The approach sheds light on the (un)sustainable nature of consumption behaviour and highlights the importance of addressing deep structural factors.

Results: Uncovering the shallow and the deep

The study categorises structural factors according to their material or ideational nature and distinguishes between shallow and deep influences. Ideational structures refer to norms, values, and narratives that shape the meaning attributed to actors, actions, and contexts, influencing what is considered "normal" in production and consumption systems, and behaviours, while material structures encompass the concrete technological, financial, or procedural phenomena that structurally shape our lifeworld, such as prices, competition, and corporate control over markets or technologies. Shallow structural factors, often discussed in public debates on sustainability governance, are visible and directly affect consumption patterns. These structural factors are easier to change - and it is easier to find the responsible actors. However, it is the deep structural factors, which are opaque and below the surface, that continue to exert a powerful influence on sustainable consumption – where it is more difficult to pinpoint responsible agents and more difficult to bring about transformation. The authors emphasise the need to address the deep and often opaque structural factors in order to achieve effective change. These deep factors can significantly constrain or enable sustainable consumption, and understanding them is critical to designing effective policies and interventions.

Discussion: Paving the way forward

The implications of this research suggest that bringing deep structural factors to the forefront of sustainability discussions, can provide policymakers and researchers with a comprehensive understanding of the barriers and enablers to achieving 1.5° lifestyles. It highlights the need to move beyond superficial solutions and advocate for systemic change, in line with the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement.


The paper "Barriers and enablers of 1.5° lifestyles: Shallow and deep structural factors shaping the potential for sustainable consumption" provides a new perspective on the critical role of structural factors in achieving sustainable consumption patterns. By systematising the understanding of these factors, the paper highlights the need for transformative action – and blind spots in sustainable consumption and production research. A comprehensive approach that challenges the status quo and reconfigures social, economic and technological structures is essential to pave the way for a sustainable future. To meet the global challenges ahead, changing deep structural change is not an option but a necessity.

The paper is published open access in the Frontiers in Sustainability journal, and can be downloaded or read for free via the journal website.

Halliki Kreinin - WWU