Our work is published in a wide range of books, journals and reports.
Explore reports, journal articles, and general interest and academic books written by members of the Sustainable Consumption Institute.
Our publications list is generated automatically through the PURE system and includes all articles, books and book chapters by SCI members, both core and affiliated. Some work by individual affiliated members lies outside the research themes of the Sustainable Consumption Institute.
Below we highlight recent journal articles and books published by core SCI researchers.
Browne, A., Hitchings, R. & Jack, T. (2019, forthcoming) ‘Already existing’ sustainability experiments: Lessons on water demand, cleanliness practices and climate adaptation from the UK camping music festival, Geoforum.
Experimentation has become a popular term amongst those interested in fostering more sustainable social futures. But the ways in which researchers and policy makers have thought about experimentation have generally been with reference to new infrastructural and governance conditions. Focusing on intentional interventions downplays the capacity for change stemming from peoples’ already existing practices. In this paper, we propose that the camping music festival – a site that continues to be seen by some as a cultural laboratory in which attendees try out new identities – can be thought of as a site of ‘already existing’ sustainability experimentation. Drawing on 60 interviews about personal washing at two camping music festivals in the UK, we explore the festival as a site from which we can draw lessons about how societies in the Global North might cope with the disrupted water supply linked to future climate change. Interviewees divulge how escaping societal expectations about bodily cleanliness can become pleasurable and the enjoyment found in resurrecting otherwise disappearing societal skills for living without easy access to familiar washing infrastructures. Spending an extended period without these infrastructures, and enjoying the experience, brings into question the assumption of an unwavering consumer need for constant supply that is embedded in modernist visions of ‘Big Water’ systems. Thus, we argue that research on the geographies of ‘already existing’ sustainability experiments holds new potential for reimagining mundane, everyday practices within research and policy agendas on sustainable futurity.
Foden, M., Browne, A., Evans, D., Sharp, L. & Watson, M. (2018, forthcoming) The water-energy-food nexus at home: New opportunities for policy interventions in household sustainability, Geographical Journal.
The nexus of water–energy–food (WEF) is as apparent at the household scale as it is anywhere else. We introduce the “Nexus at Home” as a starting point for exploring the dynamics of WEF resource use and household sustainability. Drawing on two research projects we focus specifically on domestic kitchens as a site where practices of cooking, eating, cleaning and disposing of waste come together. While these practices have long been targets for policy intervention, existing approaches draw on a limited range of perspectives from the social sciences. Reflecting on our work with four non‐academic partners (Defra, BEIS, FSA, Waterwise), we consider how social practice and geographies of household sustainability research might be combined with the dictum of “nexus thinking” to re‐imagine the framing of policy and intervention to reduce the resource intensity of everyday life. Synthesising existing “home practices” literature in the context of the “live” policy problems raised by our partners, we seek to provide clear guidance for intervening in kitchen practices. We draw on one topic which has not yet been the subject of social practices research: fats, oils and grease (FOG) going down the kitchen plughole and contributing to widespread sewer blockages. In doing so we document the sequence of interrelated food provisioning activities through which WEF is put to use in domestic kitchens and contributes to FOG blockages in sewers. We reflect upon the multiple ways these practices are shaped by the rhythms of daily life, dynamics within the home, wider cultural conventions, and infrastructures. This paper contributes to the nascent transdisciplinary research agenda of translating home practices research into wider conceptualisations of “intervention”, with a specific orientation towards academic and non‐academic stakeholders who are interested in influencing systems of sustainable consumption and production within, and across, the WEF sectors.
Ehgartner, E. (2018) Discourses of the food retail industry: Changing understandings of ‘the consumer’ and strategies for sustainability, Sustainable Production & Consumption, 16, 154-161.
This paper addresses the various ways in which ‘the consumer’ is portrayed in sustainability debates within the food retail industry and how these are interconnected with concepts of industry responses to sustainability-related issues. Paying attention to the significance of the consumer as a rhetorical figure this research contributes to social science debates on consumer responsibility and the concept of consumer choice. The empirical study examines the attitudes, behaviours, roles and responsibilities ascribed to consumers in discourses on sustainability in “The Grocer” magazine during four time periods between 2005 and 2015. The analysis demonstrates that notions of both, ‘the consumer’, as well as ‘sustainability’ are mutually dependent and subject to change over time. A significant shift in the understanding of strategies and implementations for sustainability takes place, from a rationale of ‘helping’ consumers to make sustainable choices in the supermarket towards a rationale of responding to consumers demand for sustainability by eliminating unsustainable choices. Although the argumentation throughout all years is consumer-centred, this discursive shift detracts attention from the supermarket as a realm for strategies and implementations for sustainability. Based on these findings it is established that rather than assigning responsibility to consumers the analysed debates maintain the paradigm of consumer sovereignty. It is further concluded that it is not so much consumer responsibility expressed through consumer choice that determines which strategies for sustainability are taken into consideration, but the dominant interpretation of values and behaviour of the sovereign consumer located within a particular understanding of sustainability.
Martin, C., Evans, J., Karvonen, A. Paskaleva, K., Yang, D. & Linjordet, T. (2018) Smart-sustainability: A new urban fix? Sustainable Cities and Society, 45, 640-648.
Urban policy increasingly positions smart urban development as a transformative approach to deliver sustainability. In this paper, we question the transformative credentials of smartness and argue that it is better understood as a partial fix for the economic, environmental and social challenges faced by cities. Drawing on the urban sustainability and smart city literatures, we develop the concept of the urban smart-sustainability fix. This concept focuses on how smart-sustainable city initiatives selectively integrate digital and environmental agendas via entrepreneurial forms of urban governance. We develop this concept by examining how the urban smart-sustainability fix is constructed in the European Commission’s flagship smart cities and communities lighthouse projects, focusing on the Triangulum initiative. Our research reveals three elements of the urban smart-sustainability fix: (1) the spatial development of smart-sustainable districts; (2) the digitisation of urban infrastructure to reveal hidden processes; and, (3) collaborative experimentation with low-carbon and digital technologies. We argue that this has produced urban districts that are attempting to reduce their carbon emissions while promoting green economic growth. The main aim of the urban smart-sustainability fix is to make the urban realm more manageable resulting in amplification, rather than transformation, of the dominant ecological modernisation agenda of sustainable development.
Zinkernagel, R., Evans, J. & Neij, L. (2018) Applying the SDGs to cities: business as usual or new dawn?, Sustainability, 10(9), 3201.
With growing urbanisation the sustainability of cities has become increasingly important. Although cities have been using indicators for a long time it is only in the last decades that attempts have been made to collate indicators into sets that reflect the many different aspects required to assess the sustainability of a city. The aim of this paper is to review the evolution of indicators for monitoring sustainable urban development in order to understand how ‘new’ the indicators suggested by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are for cities and the challenges they may face in using them. The review reveals that previous indicator sets emphasised environmental sustainability, health and economic growth. It is also shown that indicator sets that pre-date the SDGs lacked dimensions such as gender equality and reduced inequalities. In all, the SDG indicators provide the possibility of a more balanced and integrated approach to urban sustainability monitoring. At the same time, further research is needed to understand how to adapt the SDGs, targets and indicators to specific urban contexts. Challenges of local application include their large number, their generic characteristics and the need to complement them with specific indicators that are more relevant at the city level.
Roberts, C. & Geels, F.W. (2019) Conditions for politically accelerated transitions: Historical institutionalism, the multi-level perspective, and two historical case studies in transport and agriculture, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 140, 221-240.
This article investigates the conditions under which policymakers are likely to decisively accelerate socio-technical transitions. We develop a conceptual framework that combines insights from historical institutionalism and the Multi-Level Perspective to better understand the political dimension in transitions, focusing particularly on the mechanisms of political defection from incumbent regime to niche-innovation. We distinguish two ideal-type patterns, one where external (landscape) shocks create a ‘critical juncture’ and one where gradual feedbacks change the balance of power between niche-innovation and regime. We also identify more proximate conditions such as external pressures on policymakers (from business interests, mass publics, and technologies) and policy-internal developments (changes in problem definitions and access to institutional arrangements). We apply this framework to two historical case studies in which UK policymakers deliberately accelerated transitions: the transition from rail to road transport (1920–1970); and the transition from traditional mixed agriculture to specialised wheat agriculture (1920–1970). We analyse the conditions for major policy change in each case and draw more general conclusions. We also discuss implications for contemporary low-carbon transitions, observing that while some favourable conditions are in place, they do not yet meet all the prerequisites for political acceleration.
Geels, F.W. (2018) Low-carbon transition via system reconfiguration? A socio-technical whole system analysis of passenger mobility in Great Britain (1990-2016), Energy Research & Social Science, 46, 86-102.
Low-carbon transitions in whole systems (in energy, mobility, agro-food) are an important, yet understudied topic in socio-technical transition research. To address this topic, the paper builds on the Multi-Level Perspective, but stretches it to address developments in multiple regimes and multiple niche-innovations. This ‘zooming out’ strategy changes the conceptualisation of transition dynamics from bottom-up disruption (driven by singular niche-innovations) to gradual system reconfiguration, which represents a more distributed, multi-source view of change that includes cumulative incremental regime change, shifts in relative sizes of regimes, regime alignments, component substitution, and symbiotic adoption. To illustrate the reconfiguration approach and empirically explore the topic of whole system change, the paper investigates unfolding trajectories in UK passenger mobility. This analysis, which addresses developments in auto-mobility, train, bus and cycling regimes and five niche-innovations (biofuels, electric vehicles, smart cards, compact cities, home working), aims to assess if and how the mobility system is reconfiguring in low-carbon directions. It also aims to provide an interpretive assessment of the 12.7% decrease in domestic transport-related CO2-emissions between 2007 and 2013. This decrease is attributed to reduced auto-mobility (due to the financial-economic crisis), incremental engine efficiency improvements in new cars, some modal shift from cars to trains, and biofuels. Radical niche-innovations (smart cards, compact cities, electric vehicles) did not (yet) greatly contribute to emission reductions. CO2-emissions increased again since 2014, which suggests that further low-carbon transitions require deeper system reconfiguration.
Heeks, R. & Shekhar, S. (2019) Datafication, development and marginalised urban communities: an applied data justice framework, Information, Communication & Society, 22(7), 992-1011.
The role of data within international development is rapidly expanding. However, the recency of this phenomenon means analysis has been lagging; particularly, analysis of broader impacts of real-world initiatives. Addressing this gap through a focus on data’s increasing presence in urban development, this paper makes two contributions. First – drawing from the emerging literature on ‘data justice’ – it presents an explicit, systematic and comprehensive new framework that can be used for analysis of datafication. Second, it applies the framework to four mapping initiatives in cities of the global South. These initiatives capture and visualise new data about marginalised communities: residents living in slums and other informal settlements about whom data has traditionally been lacking. Analysing across procedural, rights, instrumental and structural dimensions, it finds these initiatives deliver real incremental gains for their target communities. But it is external actors and wealthier communities that gain more; thus, increasing relative inequality.
Katz-Gerro, T. & Lopez-Sintas, J. (2019) Circular economy activities in the European Union: Mapping Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise Patterns of Implementation and their Correlates, Business Strategy and the Environment, 28(4), 485-663.
With the European Commission looking for ways to incentivize the adoption of circular economy (CE) activities by small and medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs) in the European Union (EU), further insights into the implementation of CE activities across member states are needed. We analyse a European Commission survey conducted in 2016 among approximately 11,000 firms in EU‐28 member states in order to throw light on the conditions in which SMEs engage in five specific CE activities. In contrast to previous studies arguing that CE activities are independent of each other, we present novel findings demonstrating that seven patterns of engagement in CE can be identified in which activities are systematically interdependent. Further, we show that these patterns are associated with the organizational properties of SMEs and are differentially distributed among EU member states and industrial sectors. The interdependency of activities forms a hierarchy in which waste minimization is the most likely activity to be implemented in SMEs, followed, in descending order of likelihood, by replanning of energy use, redesigning products and services, and finally using renewable energy and replanning water usage. The findings have theoretical, managerial, and policy implications for the adoption of interdependent CE activities.
Orenstein, D., Katz-Gerro, T. & Dick, J. (2017) Environmental Tastes as a Predictor of Environmental Opinions and Behaviors, Landscape and Urban Planning, 161, 59-71.
We develop a novel way to assess how individuals perceive and utilize their local environment. Specifically, we query local residents in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park regarding their preferences for different characteristics of their environment and examine how these preferences correlate with environmental behaviors and opinions. We identify groupings of preferred characteristics as distinct environmental tastes that, drawing upon Bourdieu's theory of taste, represent general dispositions, preferences, or orientations regarding the environment. We then test whether these tastes are useful for explaining environmental behaviors and opinions.
We introduced this idea previously using survey data drawn from residents of a hyper-arid ecosystem. Here, we seek to establish whether our framework has potentially universal applications generalizable to other socio-ecological settings. We analyze survey data collected from inhabitants of the Cairngorms and, using data reduction methods, identify four distinct environmental tastes. We demonstrate how tastes constitute significant correlates of private sphere environmental behavior, engagement in outdoor activities, opinions about development, perceived economic benefit from the environment, and environmental concerns.
Environmental tastes defined for the Cairngorms are similar to those drawn from previous research and we find several parallels between the two different settings in the associations between tastes and opinions and behavior. There are similarities in the way individuals with certain profiles of environmental tastes are more inclined to have certain opinions and to engage in certain activities. We suggest that tastes can be elucidating for understanding diverse preferences for environmental characteristics and their broader implications for how humans interact with the landscape.
Tummers, L. & MacGregor, S. (2019) Beyond wishful thinking: a feminist political ecology perspective on commoning, care and the promise of co-housing, International Journal of the Commons, 13(1), pp. 62–83.
Co-housing has re-emerged in affluent cities as a model of dwelling that aims to reduce ecological impact and increase social welfare. Although it is the subject of growing academic interest, there are significant gaps in knowledge and a tendency toward wishful thinking about its promise that is not supported by evidence. We examine co-housing from a feminist political ecology perspective with the aim of contributing to an improved research agenda, not just on co-housing but commoning more widely. Drawing on qualitative fieldwork conducted at co-housing projects in the Netherlands and the UK, we cast new light on how to assess the impact of sharing practices at the level of the collectivized household. Our findings support the claim that commons thinking is not really commons if it takes the work of social reproduction (caring labour) for granted or overlooks differences between people along the lines of gender, class, race/ethnicity, age and ability. We argue that greater attention to difference entails a new set of questions and criteria, and that these are necessary for assessing the extent to which co-housing projects enable the ‘inclusive commoning’ that their proponents rather wishfully envisage.
MacGregor, S. (editor) (2017) The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Environment. London: Routledge
The Routledge Handbook of Gender and Environment gathers together state-of-the-art theoretical reflections and empirical research from leading researchers and practitioners working in this transdisciplinary and transnational academic field. Over the course of the book, these contributors provide critical analyses of the gender dimensions of a wide range of timely and challenging topics, from sustainable development and climate change politics, to queer ecology and interspecies ethics in the so-called Anthropocene.
Presenting a comprehensive overview of the development of the field from early political critiques of the male domination of women and nature in the 1980s to the sophisticated intersectional and inclusive analyses of the present, the volume is divided into four parts: i) Foundations; ii) Approaches; iii) Politics policy and practice; and iv) Futures. Comprising chapters written by forty contributors with different perspectives and working in a wide range of research contexts around the world, this Handbook will serve as a vital resource for scholars, students, and practitioners in environmental studies, gender studies, human geography, and the environmental humanities and social sciences more broadly.
McMeekin, A., Geels, F. & Hodson, M. (2019) Mapping the winds of whole system reconfiguration: Analysing low-carbon transformations across production, distribution and consumption in the UK electricity system (1990–2016), Research Policy, 48, 5, 1216-1231.
A founding assumption and aim of the sociotechnical approach to sustainability transitions was the need to develop frameworks to understand major systemic changes that would be required across the entire chain of production, distribution and consumption. However, most studies have so far focused on partial aspects of the entire chain, often a single, radical technology innovation. Therefore, since the founding ambition remains largely unrealized, the paper aims to contribute to transition scholarship by developing an approach for ‘whole-system’ analysis. As a second contribution, we argue that this broader unit of analysis calls for greater attention to the architecture of the system in terms of how constituent elements are linked to one another. To elaborate this point, we develop a reconfiguration approach, based on conceptual extensions to the multi-level perspective, analysing both techno-economic developments and socio-institutional developments. This approach draws attention to the multiplicity and interdependencies of change processes that constitute transitions, including incremental change, component substitution, symbiotic add-ons, knock-on effects and changes to the system architecture. A third contribution is to make an empirical whole-system analysis of the low-carbon reconfiguration of the UK electricity system between 1990 and 2016. This is important and timely, because it allows socio-technical transition approaches to ‘speak’ at the same empirical whole-system level that dominates current long-term, low-carbon (modelling) analysis and associated political and public debate. This consequently enables a demonstration of the added value of the whole-system reconfiguration approach. Our findings show that early reconfiguration of the UK electricity system was dominated by modular changes within the generation and consumption subsystems; and more recently, how these earlier changes have triggered a new focus on the whole system architecture, anticipating deeper changes to the linkages between the generation, network and consumption subsystems.
Hodson, M., Geels, F. & McMeekin, A. (2017) Reconfiguring Urban Sustainability Transitions, Analysing Multiplicity, Sustainability, 9(2), 299-219.
Cities, and the networked infrastructures that sustain urban life, are seen as crucial sites for creating more sustainable futures. Yet, although there are many plans, the realisation of sustainable urban infrastructures on the ground is uneven. To develop better ways of understanding why this is the case, the paper makes a conceptual contribution by engaging with current understanding of urban sustainability transitions, using urban sustainable mobility as a reference point. It extends these insights to argue that urban transitions are not about technological or social innovation per se, but about how multiple innovations are experimented with, combined and reconfigured in existing urban contexts and how such processes are governed. There are potentially many ways in which urban sustainable mobility can be reconfigured contextually. Innovation is in the particular form of reconfiguration rather than individual technologies. To make analytical sense of this multiplicity, a preliminary framework is developed that offers the potential to think about urban transitions as contextual and reconfigurational. We argue that there is a need to embrace multiplicity and to understand its relationships to forms of reconfiguration, through empirical exploration and further theoretical and conceptual development. The preliminary framework is a contribution to doing so and we set out future directions for research.
Sharmina, M., Abi Ghanem, D., Browne, A., Hall, S., Mylan, J., Petrova, S. & Wood, F. (2019) Envisioning surprises: How social sciences could help models represent ‘deep uncertainty’ in future energy and water demand, Energy Research & Social Science, 50, 18-28.
Medium- and long-term planning, defined here as 10 years or longer, in the energy and water sectors is fraught with uncertainty, exacerbated by an accelerating ‘paradigm shift’. The new paradigm is characterised by a changing climate and rapid adoption of new technologies, accompanied by changes in end-use practices. Traditional methods (such as econometrics) do not incorporate these diverse and dynamic aspects and perform poorly when exploring long-term futures. This paper critiques existing methods and explores how interdisciplinary insights could provide methodological innovation for exploring future energy and water demand. The paper identifies four attributes that methods need to capture to reflect at least some of the uncertainty associated with the paradigm shift: stochastic events, the diversity of behaviour, policy interventions and the ‘co-evolution’ of the variables affecting demand. Machine-learning methods can account for some of the four identified attributes and can be further enhanced by insights from across the psychological and social sciences (human geography and sociology), incorporating rebound effect and the unevenness of demand, and acknowledging the emergent nature of demand. The findings have implications for urban and regional planning of infrastructure and contribute to current debates on nexus thinking for energy and water resource management.
Heyes, G., Sharmina, M., Fernandez Mendoza, J.M., Gallego Schmid, A. & Azapagic, A. (2018) Developing and implementing circular economy business models in service-oriented technology companies, Journal of Cleaner Production, 177, 621-632.
The service sector has the potential to play an instrumental role in the shift towards circular economy due to its strategic position between manufacturers and end-users. However, there is a paucity of supporting methodologies and real-life applications to demonstrate how service-oriented companies can implement circular economy principles in daily business practice. This paper addresses this gap by analysing the potential of service-oriented companies in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector to build and implement circular economy business models. To this end, the Backcasting and Eco-design for the Circular Economy (BECE) framework is applied in an ICT firm. BECE, previously developed and demonstrated for product-oriented applications, has been developed further here for applications in the service sector. By shifting the focus from a product-oriented approach to a user-centred eco-design, the paper shows how ICT firms can identify, evaluate and prioritise sustainable business model innovations for circular economy. The two most promising business model innovations are explored strategically with the aim of designing circular economy models consistent with the company's priorities of customer satisfaction and profitability. The findings suggest that ICT companies may be able to support the deployment of a circular economy in the service-oriented technology sector. Importantly, micro and small organisations can play a fundamental role if provided with macro-level support to overcome company-level barriers. Finally, the BECE framework is shown to be a valuable resource to explore, analyse and guide the implementation of circular economy opportunities in service-oriented organisations. Further research to verify the application of the findings to other service-oriented organisations is recommended.
Welch, D. & Yates, L. (2018) The Practices of Collective Action: Practice Theory, Sustainable Transitions and Social Change, Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 48(3), 288-305.
Developing theory for understanding social transformation is essential for environmental sustainability, yet mainstream accounts of collective action neglect the dynamics of daily life. Theories of practice have proved generative for the study of sustainable consumption but struggle to accommodate the roles of collective actors, strategic action and purposive collective projects in social change. In response, this paper develops a practice theoretical account of collective action pertinent to processes of large scale social change, with specific focus on transitions towards sustainability. We consider three ideal types of collective—bureaucratic organisations, groupings and latent networks—and, drawing on existing social theoretical resources that are ontologically compatible with a practice account, explore the kinds of practices and arrangements which compose them. Processes concerning strategy, bureaucracy, management, social worlds and collective identity are identified as important combinations of practices and arrangements. We suggest a key contribution of practice theory has been to identify a type of collective action we call dispersed collective activity, and we suggest how this type of activity may give rise to collectives. We conclude by suggesting further development for the realisation of the project's contribution to the analysis of sustainability transitions.
Yates, L. (2018) Sharing, Households and Sustainable Consumption, Journal of Consumer Culture, 18(3): 433-452.
Recently, economists and environmental scientists have problematised households, showing that their reducing size in average number of inhabitants has implications for environmental sustainability due to losses in economies of scale. Findings suggest that resources are shared better when people live together. This article analyses this common domestic consumption, drawing on literature about households, sharing and sustainable consumption. It is argued that multiple-person households apportion the resources involved in supplying practices through three modes of sharing: successive sharing, simultaneous sharing and shared/divided work. These are underpinned and enabled by standard material arrangements of households, in which a minimum of certain goods and services are available to residents regardless of number. Exemplifying the perspective, I examine recent survey data relating to meals and domestic laundry, two sociologically significant and resource-intensive spheres of domestic activity, paying attention to differences across one-person and multiple-person households. Modes of sharing, it is argued, also surfeit the domestic sphere, with market, state and household infrastructures playing contextually variable roles in provisioning goods and services among populations.