This introductory article of the special issue compares different conceptual underpinnings of efforts to make the everyday activities of consumers more sustainable. As social practice theory (SPT) is the main theoretical foundation of the articles collected here, we outline its strengths and limitations, when compared with the dominant individual-oriented behaviour change approach, and we focus on theories of planned behaviour, social marketing as well as ‘choice architecture’, based on behavioural economics. This article analyses SPT's usefulness, particularly from the applied point of view for policy-makers and social change programme designers. In the final section we provide some recommendations. These consider the need for greater reflexivity and experimentation with the practices of policy- and programme-making and the building of coalitions of ‘distributed interveners’. They also relate to the need for more focus on consumers' workplace practices alongside domestic practices and analysis of and intervention in the material environments and objects in which social practices are embedded. Finally, they are concerned with the identification of moments of transition in consumers' lives and they focus on the ‘transition practices’ that familiarize people with their new life situations.