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Sustainable Consumption Institute

Reshaping the domestic nexus at home

Working with key policy partners, we are applying practice theory to better inform interventions aimed at changing demand for water, energy and food in the home.

Plughole in kitchen.

Reshaping the Domestic Nexus is a multi-stage ESRC funded project, bringing together academics from leading research groups within the Universities of Sheffield (Watson, Sharp, Evans, Foden – now at Keele, Jackson) and Manchester (Browne, Hoolohan, Southerton, Warde). The researchers have been at the forefront of developing new ways of understanding how householders’ routine activities end up demanding resources, including of energy, food and water. Within Reshaping the Domestic Nexus the team works to make academic understandings of household sustainability useful for informing actual policy processes with our diverse policy and non-academic project partners.

This project applies a practice theory approach to a range of policy initiatives in the water, energy and food nexus with a focus on consumption practices in UK homes.

Our purpose is to better inform policy intervention in this field, working in partnership with:

  • the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)
  • the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
  • the Food Standards Agency (FSA)
  • Waterwise
  • Northumbrian Water Group (NWG/Essex and Suffolk)
  • Actant Consulting
  • Artesia Consulting
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF-UK)
  • Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

This three stage project follows on from initial funding in 2015 of the ‘Domestic Nexus Networking project’  (funded by ESRC Nexus Network) between:

  • The University of Sheffield (Watson, Jackson, Sharp)
  • The University of Manchester’s Sustainable Consumption Institute (Browne, Evans – now Sheffield, Warde, Southerton).

This ESRC Nexus Network funded workshop series (2015), extended the Nexus concept to examine the dynamics of consumption at the domestic (household) scale. We explored this field through a series of workshops, taking place in Sheffield, Manchester and London. The workshops series showed that there is an array of existing knowledge that can inform understanding WEF service demand as emergent from social practices. The workshops also worked through the promising affinities and synergies between practice research and the emphasis of nexus thinking on interdependencies and relationships, across scales.

The second stage Reshaping the Domestic Nexus was led by Matt Watson (PI) at the University of Sheffield with Liz Sharp (Co-I), David Evans (Co-I), Mike Foden (RA) also at the University of Sheffield, and Ali Browne (Co-I) at the University of Manchester. This 1 year project was funded by the ESRC Nexus Network. Reshaping the Domestic Nexus engaged with four policy partners: BEIS, DEFRA, FSA and Waterwise. In this stage of the project we produced four reports, in consultation with our partner organisations, that reframed a ‘live’ policy challenge for our project partners. Each report (available here) presents a common ‘Change Points’ approach but focuses in on a different dynamic of what goes on in home kitchens.

The third iteration of this project ‘Change Points for the Nexus at Home: A toolkit for developing policy for water-energy-food consumption in UK Homes’ is funded by the ESRC Impact Accelerator Account (IAA) at the University of Manchester. It is led by Ali Browne (PI) and Claire Hoolohan (Co-I) at UOM, with strategic input from the academic (Watson, Evans, Sharp, Foden – Co-Is) and non-academic (Defra, FSA, Waterwise, Northumbrian Water Group, Actant Consulting, Artesia Consulting) advisory boards and wider stakeholders (WWF-UK, WRAP). Taking place from January to October 2018, the intention is to co-design a toolkit (workshop process, facilitator workbook) which will support policy makers and other non-academic stakeholders interested in developing more nuanced policy processes and business practices around household sustainability. After ‘Beta Testing’ workshops with project partners in June/July 2018 (on the topics of water efficiency and food waste), the toolkit will be soft launched in October/November 2018.

A fourth stage of impact and applied research funding has been secured through the University of Sheffield. In 2018-2019 the toolkit will ‘go on tour’, and be applied to a range of ‘live’ water, energy, food and waste policy challenges. Any stakeholders interested in implementing the toolkit to define a policy challenges related to WEF and household sustainability are asked to get in touch with one of the current project team (Browne, Evans, Hoolohan, Sharp, Watson).

The concept of the nexus of water, energy and food has increasing traction in research and policy, confronting the interdependencies between these fundamental resources. Most work in this field focuses on the supply of these resources. Reshaping the Domestic Nexus starts from concern with how demand for these resources and their associated service infrastructures are constituted with a focus on everyday practices happening in domestic spaces.

Our aims

Practice theory informs a large and growing field of empirical research generating distinctive ideas and evidence in relation to resource consumption in the home.

This project will build on the research teams’ existing activity in bringing practice theory research into dialogue with policy makers and other stakeholders, to enable a step change in the effectiveness with which practice research can inform the increased effectiveness of policy and intervention.

Manchester PI:

Project Team