, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 43-57
Date: 03 Mar 2009

Participation in Green Consumer Policies: Deliberative Democracy under Wrong Conditions?

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Abstract

In policy debates about reducing environmental and social harms, political consumerism is often called for by actors from a broad political spectrum. This paper examines traits of deliberative democracy in cases where instruments of political consumerism (eco-labelling, certificates and standards) are developed. The empirical cases are processes surrounding eco-labelled, standardised forestry, food and electricity in Sweden. In green forestry certification, deliberative processes have taken place close to deliberative democracy ideals. Yet, these processes have been made possible because of equal power levels, although power, according to deliberative theory, should be irrelevant. In organic food labelling, a smothering consensus climate has enabled deliberation, although such a policy condition is at odds with certain deliberative democracy ideals. In electricity labelling, its deliberative processes were embraced by everyone, although the problem scope was narrowly defined, whilst fundamental problems were not addressed. If deliberative democracy researchers become involved in critical frame reflection in consumer-oriented policy making, changes can be made that help reduce environmental harms and strengthen public engagement in political consumerism.