Decarbonising This will be the focus of enquiry.

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the UK in line with national targets set by the UK Government for emission
reductions of 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels is part of a greater global
commitment to meet a globally agreed 2°C limit in global temperature rise (CCC,
2016). Elizabeth Shove’s work on social practice theory looks to offer a useful
insight to the barriers of decarbonising households which account for over 40%
of the UKs emissions (CCC, 2016). Therefore, housing accounts for a significant
portion of the UKs carbon emissions. This will be the focus of enquiry. With a
social practice lens, the issue of decarbonising the UK in the household
segment can be conceptualised as bounded with socio material interdependencies
(Walker et al., 2015). The materiality of a house and social life of household
members is seen to be intrinsically linked as households only become carbon
producing entities when they are being lived in apart from their construction
(Walker et al., 2015). An attempt will be made to conceptualise sustainable
consumption and issues of demand-side decarbonisation with a social practice
lens has shown to provide greater analytical power as opposed to
individualistic theories of behaviour change (Shove and Spurling, 2014). First,
this will be explored with ‘nudge’ theory (Thaler and Sustain, 2008) in the
context of the District Heating system that currently provides energy for the
new low-carbon community at Cranbrook. Secondly, following this, I will explore
the issues of governance of conflicting interests that arises due to new green technologies
before discussing social practices and the difficulties that it emphasizes for
the decarbonisation of the household.


nudge according to Thaler and Sustain (2008:6) is “choice architecture that
alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options
of significantly changing their economic incentives”. Entities of Cranbrook’s
first phase are intended to promote a lower carbon lifestyle in the community
through infrastructure designs that (dis)incentives envisioned behaviour to
promote ‘greener’ lifestyles. One notable feature was the deliberate exclusion
of car parking for homeowners with the nudge intention of residents to utilise
public transport systems. This however is paternalistic in the sense that it
removes resident’s freedom of choice. Additionally, this mirrors aspects of
Cranbrook’s District Heating System. In the case of Cranbrook’s district
heating system of which EON has an 80-year contract, tensions are apparent. Residents
feel locked into a monopoly deal with the energy company as they were not
allowed to install other source of energy such as Solar PV. Naomi Harnett,
EEDGP states that in the 2016, Cranbrook Community Needs Questionnaire; 63% of
respondents were satisfied with the energy services that is a 16% increase from
the year before that. However, differences are reported elsewhere such as Tims
(2017) reports for The Guardian that ‘Energy customers locked into a costly
scheme who have no right to switch’. It is suggested that on paper, the schemes
such as the District Heating system in Cranbrook are good news where waste
energy is recycled and households benefits from cheaper heating bills as they
no longer have to sustain their own boilers. However, residents criticise their
realities of enormous energy bills and frequent outages – additionally evident
in the local newspaper article by Clark (2017): ‘District heating network
outage leaves Cranbrook without heating or hot water’ with remarks that this
was not the first occurrence. The difficulties of decarbonising the UK is
apparent in such a narrative where homeowners are ‘nudged’ into the district
heating system default to conform in this environmentally friendly living.


Cranbrook approaches the final phase of development, decision making becomes
increasingly fundamental. To facilitate the crucial decisions, the East Devon
District Council encouraged residents and workers in Cranbrook to participate
in a community consultation on how their town and community can progress. The
‘Your town, your future, your say’ was the first major consultation in which
residents and workers were able to influence how their town grows. Shove and
Walker (2007), argue for explicit recognition of uncertainties and limitations
of science-based expertise and a shift towards strategies for managing
transitions that are multi actor, multifactor and multilevel. Harnett, EEDGP
stated that 51% of residents felt a part of the community which was a 19% drop from
2015 figures. In the context of the ‘Your Town, your future, your say’
community consultation and downward trends such that Harnett remarked upon.

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Bickerstaff and Walker (2005) state that multi-stakeholder involvement is never
‘neutral’ as stakeholder’s visions are always shaped by the systems and social
environments they live in. For
example, a principle critique of nudge is the potential “(un)availability of
‘opt-out’ opportunities and ‘the dangers of incompetent of evil nudgers'”
(Reid and Ellsworth-Krebs, 2018:4). This top down approach in terms of planning
for low carbon demonstrates the difficulties of planning for low carbon for
example Tony Norton, CEE stated that as this is EON’s scheme they have total
say and that housing developers are only interested in profit. In this model
residents are not a part of the decision-making process and have no ownership
of the scheme. Although the conflict within the initial model illustrates the
need for full participation of all actors in carbon emission reduction.


barriers become apparent when sustainable technologies like the district
heating system become entangled with cultural practices. In other instances,
green technologies such as solar PV which are implemented to help energy and
carbon reductions prove to not be straightforward (Ozaki and Shaw, 2013).  They have shown to have a rebound effect in
which savings made are offset through other activities such as plane tickets
for overseas holidays. This scenario may be evident with the growing
infatuation of technological solutions, such as the West End planning for new
energy solutions in Cranbrook including, heat network interconnection expansion
to the France Alderney-Britain electricity interconnector (FABlink) converter
station and solar thermal ground arrays sites (Centre for Energy and the
Environment, 2015). Systematic failures of these new developments may not
deliver the intended outcomes of lessening carbon footprint but lead to adverse
implications on carbon emissions in other parts of the household. Evidently
here the demand-side policies are lacking. Since energy efficiency developments
reduce the real price of energy services, consumption may increase or savings
will be spent elsewhere (Druckman et al.,
2012). Furthermore, through focusing on efficiencies in technology, the
principle of the strategy is concerned with meeting existing ‘needs’ (Spurling,
2013) thus embedding current patterns of demand for carbon. Behavioural changes
are fundamental for decarbonising the household as seen through the rebound
effect. Simply the awareness of this is meaningless therefore policy makers
must be attentive in reducing the effects through demand side measures in other
words consumption. This is challenging as will be discussed.


this section, looking through a practice lens helps illustrate the barriers on
demand side policies in fostering sustainable consumption. Alternatives to
behaviour change programmes such as nudge that do not address significant
issues regarding the means people want or think they need to live and consume
(Uzzell, 2008). Shove’s (2003) principal critique is that energy consumption is
not about individual choice but of deep rooted structural processes such as
institutions, power and economic processes that drive patterns of social
behaviour. Consequently, “social practices are made of three types of element:
material, competence and meaning” (Shove et
al., 2012:23 cited in Spurling 2013). In the context of Cranbrook it is
evident that in phase 1 of home development, the deliberate shortage of
off-street car parking space to encourage the use of public transport had
failed to impact and mainstream to resident’s lifestyles. Palpably we see that
transitions toward sustainability cannot be contingent on decision makers
influencing residents in Cranbrook to make sacrifices as this was a major objection
by residents. The focus of this strategy was inattentive to the three elements
of social practices that of ‘material’ i.e. the infrastructure, ‘competence’
(know-how of public transport or cycling alternatives) and ‘meaning’ such as
the cultural conventions associated with transport. These societal conventions
of comfort and convenience in everyday life of resident’s override attempts of
behavioural change. Therefore, applicable societal innovation must question the
status quo for shifts to more sustainable regimes of technologies, routines and
conventions throughout all domains of daily life (Shove, 2010). Phase 2 of home
development has reverted to the norm through provision of more off-street
parking, illustrating the challenges of shifting behaviours to lower carbon
intensive practices. Subsequently, in previously discussed approaches of supply
side policies of decarbonising further cement our lifestyles and lock us in a
comfortable set of practices thus normalising and standardising new ways of


in many ways has fuelled a shift in building regulations that has cemented our
idea of what is a comfortable temperature that is 22 degrees. In similar ways,
we see that materiality of homes to be interrelated with culture and everyday practices
(Walker et al., 2015). The material built environment of the home looks to lock
in practices in this case homeowner’s habits of regulating temperature in their
homes. The ‘ratchet effect’ (Shove, 2003) suggest that shifts of comfortable
temperature expectations have become normalised through a combination of
technological, social and personal cultural expectations that is graphically
represented as a one-way trajectory. This further illustrates the difficulties
of decarbonising households as conventions become reinforced materially and
socially. Cranbrook’s residents have the same notions as the rest of the UK of ideas
of comfort, cleanliness and convenience through the proliferation of the
internet and TV that help reproduce social norms. Thus, results in a deeper
convergence of conventions temporally and spatially.


conclusion, sustainable housing movements such as Cranbrook illustrate some of
the difficulties that come with building low-carbon, sustainable communities
and thus one of the areas in decarbonising the UK. However, as Cranbrook looks
to demonstrate with ‘Your town. Your future, your say’, the project is
pioneering new ways of achieving a low carbon lifestyle through experimenting
with new practices by harnessing the creative energies of community-led
solutions (Seyfang, 2010). Naturally these solutions will co-exist with
demand-side and supply-side policies as interrelated entities.


a social practice approach is appropriate in making visible conventions as it
is more attentive to people’s understandings and valuations of what they are
doing and provides evaluation of this (Shove and Spurling, 2014). In
comparison, the nudge model assumes agency exists- with assumptions that
attitudes of consumption may be altered through persuasion and pervasion of
information. Nudge provides a form of intentional intervention to encourage the
‘right’ behaviour whereas practice theorists do not predict how a practice
might be generated (Reid and Ellsworth-Krebs, 2018). With the strengths of
these two approaches brought together, it may counterpart the others weakness
and contribute in positive demand side policies for household carbon
consumption. Utilizing both as a form of governance for decision making in
Cranbrook and fulfilling its ideal to be an exemplar of a new sustainable town
initiative. For example, as nudges are utilized in isolation with slight
thought to the wider implications – a practice theory approach may explore the
relatedness of the practice explored, considering the wider impact of the unit
of study that is of practices. This is particularly appropriate as the nudge
approach is critiqued for failing to make sense of the complexities of the
interaction between people, technology and the wider cultural and social
context (Pinch, 2010 cited in Reid and Ellsworth-Krebs, 2018). Despite all of
this, challenges of decarbonising are of a national and global scale that the
contexts vary spatially and temporally. With the analysis of individuals
(nudge) and human activity (social practices), engagement with these approaches
offer guidelines in understandings and solving the complexities of
decarbonising households.

Categories: Decision Making


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