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Understanding household energy consumption: social practices, norms and values, and learning how to change

Applicant Erkman Suren
Number 153744
Funding scheme NRP 71 Managing Energy Consumption
Research institution Institut de géographie et de durabilité Faculté des géosciences et environnement Université de Lausanne
Institution of higher education University of Lausanne - LA
Main discipline Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Start/End 01.01.2015 - 31.08.2018
Approved amount 316'840.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Sociology

Keywords (5)

Switzerland; energy consumption; households; norms and values; social practices

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Past efforts to reduce energy consumption have focused on seeing individuals or technologies as central to change yet such efforts have proven far from sufficient. One reason for this may be that electricity is not relevant to people, who switch on lights and use appliances without much interest in how electricity is generated and distributed. What is meaningful to people, however, are the different services that electricity provides, such as comfort or convenience. We propose to study the everyday lives of households in Lausanne and Geneva, to understand the relation between energy services, social practices, and values. Time as a resource will be an important dimension of our study, related to how people manage their time during the day and week, but also time in relation to lifetimes and how energy consumption practices change over time - with the arrival of a baby, for example, or moving to a new home. We aim to uncover key insights towards the Swiss Energy Strategy 2050.
Lay summary

Les efforts qui visent à réduire la consommation énergétique des ménages en se focalisant uniquement sur des technologies ou des comportements plus efficaces ne se sont pas montrés suffisants jusqu’à présent. L’électricité en tant que telle ne semble pas très pertinente pour Monsieur et Madame Tout-le-monde, qui allument les lumières ou enclenchent leur four sans trop s’intéresser à comment cette énergie est générée et distribuée.  Dans cette étude, nous proposons de considérer le quotidien de ménages à Lausanne et à Genève, pour comprendre la consommation d’électricité en lien avec les pratiques sociales, les services rendus par l’électricité, ainsi que les normes et valeurs des personnes. Le facteur temps prendra une dimension importante, à savoir comment les personnes gèrent leur quotidien, mais aussi comment des changements de pratiques se produisent dans la durée: l’arrivée d’un enfant, par exemple, ou un déménagement, peuvent avoir un impact non négligeable sur la consommation énergétique des ménages. Nous proposons d’étudier différents groupes socio-économiques et de travailler étroitement avec nos partenaires, les SIG et SIL. Nos approches se basent sur des méthodes qualitatives, avec des entretiens approfondis et des observations de terrain. Nous cherchons à identifier quelques tendances que nous validerons par la suite par le biais d'un questionnaire. Finalement, nous utiliserons des méthodes participatives pour travailler sur l’aspect appliqué de cette recherche: comment déplacer les pratiques vers des modes de consommation plus efficaces, en vue de contribuer à la stratégie énergétique Suisse 2050.

 

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 26.10.2014

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Constructing normality through material and social lock-in: the dynamics of energy consumption among Geneva’s more affluent households
Sahakian Marlyne (2017), Constructing normality through material and social lock-in: the dynamics of energy consumption among Geneva’s more affluent households, in A. Hui R. Day and G. Walker (ed.), 51-71.
Exploring emotions and norms around Swiss household energy usage: when methods inform understandings of the social
Sahakian Marlyne, Bertho Beatrice, Exploring emotions and norms around Swiss household energy usage: when methods inform understandings of the social, in Energy Research and Social Science.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Deconstructing Participatory Climate Governance: Innovation or Business as Usual? Talk given at a conference From governing behaviour to transformative change: a typology of household energy initiatives in Switzerland 26.10.2017 Bordeaux, France Sahakian Marlyne;
World Resource Forum Talk given at a conference The multiplying of household appliances: constructing normality across socio-economic groups in Western Switzerland 24.10.2017 Geneva, Switzerland Sahakian Marlyne;
European Sociological Association Conference Talk given at a conference Two articles: Eco-social interventions in Lausanne (with B. Bertho); The multiplying of household appliances (with B. Bertho); 30.08.2017 Athens, Greece Bertho Béatrice; Sahakian Marlyne;
European Sociological Association Consumption Group Talk given at a conference Elite energy consumption: tackling the upper limits (with B. Bertho) 07.09.2016 Bologna, Italy Sahakian Marlyne;
SCORAI Conference: Transitions beyond the consumer society Talk given at a conference Disconnect! Changing expectations around information communication technology products and services in Western Switzerland 16.06.2016 Maine, United States of America Sahakian Marlyne; Bertho Béatrice; Erkman Suren;
SCORAI Conference: Transitions beyond the consumer society Talk given at a conference Contesting social norms through emotions: conceptual and methodological handles for understanding how practices might change over time 15.06.2016 Maine, United States of America Erkman Suren; Bertho Béatrice; Sahakian Marlyne;
DEMAND conference Talk given at a conference Household dynamics and time as a resource: changing expectations and electricity consumption in the home in Western Switzerland  13.04.2016 Lancaster, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Erkman Suren;
Ateliers Lausannois d’Ethnographie: La preuve ethnographique Talk given at a conference Conditions de la validité d’une enquête ethnographique : étude de cas autour des usages de l’électricité dans la vie quotidienne des ménages en Suisse romande 18.03.2016 Lausanne, Switzerland Erkman Suren; Sahakian Marlyne;
Journées internationales de la sociologie de l’énergie (JISE) Talk given at a conference « Addressing household electricity consumption in Switzerland: Understanding social practices and uncovering norms and values  07.07.2015 Tours, France Sahakian Marlyne; Erkman Suren;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
European Energy Transition conference: Energy Living Labs: collaborating with consumers, citizens and cities, organized in partnership with WTH, ZHAW and Terragir. 30.01.2018 Geneva, Switzerland
SCORAI workshop: sustainable consumption in a constrained world 20.08.2016 Budapest, Hungary

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Presentation to the OCEN (Cantonal energy office) Talk 15.01.2018 Geneva, Switzerland Sahakian Marlyne;
Presentation to the City of Meyrin Talk 27.11.2017 Geneva, Switzerland Sahakian Marlyne;
Rencontres de l'OCEN (Cantonal Energy Workshop) Talk 09.11.2017 Geneva, Switzerland Sahakian Marlyne;
Presentation to Terragir Talk 15.06.2017 Geneva, Switzerland Bertho Béatrice; Sahakian Marlyne;
Presentation to the Federation Romande des Consommateurs Talk 08.06.2017 Lausanne, Switzerland Sahakian Marlyne; Bertho Béatrice;
Workshop with EDF team Workshop 06.04.2017 Paris, France Bertho Béatrice; Sahakian Marlyne;
Presentation to the SIG (interim research results) Talk 21.06.2016 Geneva, Switzerland Bertho Béatrice; Sahakian Marlyne;
Meeting with Swiss Office of Energy to present research Talk 01.03.2016 Bern, Switzerland Sahakian Marlyne;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media Art à croquer Cooperation (Coop Magazine) Western Switzerland 2017
Talks/events/exhibitions Futur Alimentaire Western Switzerland 2017
Talks/events/exhibitions Jean Challenge Western Switzerland 2017
Talks/events/exhibitions On débranche! Un projet de recherche sur la (dé)connectivité Western Switzerland 2015

Abstract

Past efforts to reduce energy consumption have focused on seeing individuals or technologies as central to change; yet the favoured tools for inciting change among individuals, such as price and information schemes or the introduction of more efficient technologies, are far from sufficient (Cohen and Murphy, 2001; Maniates, 2001; Shove, 2010). In industrialized countries, the added challenge of electricity consumption is that it is rarely relevant in and of itself: people are generally not interested in how electricity arrives in the home; in Switzerland, the cost of electricity is not cited as a sufficient factor for motivating changes in consumption (Litvine and Wüstenhagen, 2011). What is meaningful to people are the different services that electricity provides, such as lighting or indoor air comfort (Shove, 2003; Patterson, 2007; Sahakian, 2014). In Switzerland, there is tremendous potential for increasing the energy efficiency of households in relation to electricity consumption - by 22% in the case of Lausanne and up to 30% in Geneva (SIL and SIG personal communication). In order to achieve this, electricity consumption must be considered in relation to everyday life and related social practices.The aim of this research proposal is to uncover how electricity consumption can become meaningful when it is tied up with everyday social practices and in what way such an approach would lead to more efficient appliance and lighting usage in the home. The focus is on households from different socio-economic groups in Lausanne and Geneva, in light of previous and planned energy efficiency campaigns by the electricity distributors and partners in this project - SIL in Lausanne and SIG in Geneva. Three assumptions guide this proposal: 1) electricity consumption becomes meaningful when placed in relation to everyday practices, such as how we clean our homes and clothes, prepare meals, care for children, entertain guests, etc., and that 2) underlying these practices are culturally-grounded norms and values, that often remain implicit and tacitly accepted. Values related to ‘sustainable lifestyles’ and even ‘saving energy’ have all become normalized as values people must uphold, explicitly (Fahy and Rau, 2013). In discourse, people may say they care about saving electricity, when in practice, their actions can differ, leading to what has been called the value-action gap in environmental policy (Blake, 1999). A main hypothesis of this project is that the norms and values tied to meaningful practices are more entrenched in space and time than those associated with saving energy, and would need to be uncovered towards more ‘sustainable’ patterns of consumption.This research proposal aims to gain insights that could lead to changes in household electricity consumption. It therefore has an applied dimension that requires an understanding of how people learn to change their everyday practices, related to a third assumption: 3) change does not come about solely through raised awareness or access to new technologies, but rather as people learn and are engaged with different elements of a practice. Participative methods will be applied in the final phase of this project, bringing together household members and other relevant stakeholders in visioning and back-casting workshops towards future changes in social practices. The project combines notions from industrial ecology, social practice theory and social learning theory, and will contribute innovative conceptual and methodological approaches, as well as new empirical research in Switzerland - both quantitative and qualitative. The results will be relevant to researchers and consumer interest groups, as well as future campaigns by the public and private sector, applicable at different levels including neighbourhoods, cities, cantons or the federal level - towards the Swiss Energy Strategy 2050.
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