Sustainable consumption by product substitution? An exploration of the appropriation of plant-based ‘mylk’in everyday life

Milena Büchs, Lucie Middlemiss, Josephine Mylan, Lucy Stevens

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Many mainstream visions of sustainable societies assume that ‘green’ products will come to replace existing ones, reducing the footprint of consumption and enabling daily life to continue relatively undisturbed. However, several sustainable consumption studies have demonstrated that product substitution is not necessarily a straightforward process. This article asks whether the increased consumption of plant-based ‘mylk’, which is marketed as a more sustainable option compared to dairy milk, can be understood as a case of sustainable consumption via product substitution. The study applies a mixed methods approach, combining quantitative data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey with secondary qualitative data from the Mass Observation Archive. We find that while the consumption of mylk has increased and that of milk decreased, this cannot be characterised as a straightforward case of substitution. Many people consume mylk alongside milk, rather than cutting milk consumption entirely. Rising mylk consumption requires the engagement of new, sometimes conflicting, meanings around health and the environment. In addition, a range of situational factors constitute unequal mylk consumption in society, and provisioning systems present important drivers and barriers that shape mylk consumption. Overall, our account suggests that moving towards sustainable consumption is not a simple process of product substitution as mylk is often consumed in addition to milk, and as this process requires adjustments in practices and meanings, unfolds unevenly within society, and is shaped by production systems rather than just demand.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-101
Number of pages24
JournalConsumption and Society
Issue number1
Early online date16 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Institute of Innovation Research


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