New project on enoughness in energy use

The University of Helsinki has granted funding for my research project Enoughness in energy use: Sustainable and sufficient energy consumption in Finland (ENUSE), for three years (2021-2023).  Here’s a brief description of the project (also in Finnish).

One of our society’s major challenges is to mitigate climate change in an effective, yet socially just way. For this, we need to foster practices that are both environmentally sustainable and socially sufficient, especially in key consumption areas such as energy use, which contribute to the majority of carbon emissions. The motivations of ENUSE project are threefold: Firstly, although the discourse of “just transition” is strongly rising in research, the discussion on sufficiency and sustainability in energy use has thus far remained rather abstract (Heiskanen and Laakso 2019; Spengler 2016). Secondly, the ways the ongoing changes in our energy system towards carbon neutrality challenge what people consider as normal, desirable, acceptable or inclusive, have been only little studied in Finland and elsewhere (Laakso et al. 2019; Sovacool et al. 2019). Thirdly, the methods employed in previous research (such as definitions of energy poverty based solely on income, energy costs or building characteristics) have been insufficient to address the experiences of energy or fuel deprivation and vulnerability in real life (Thomson et al. 2017). The Finnish characteristics of long distances, aging population, urbanisation, thriftiness, and poor energy literacy also preclude drawing inferences from existing studies, calling for new methods and qualitative approaches (ASSIST 2018).

ENUSE responds to these research gaps by addressing “enoughness” in mundane energy use. Enoughness, or what is “enough” or “sufficient”, is an emerging theme in sustainability research that aims to illustrate what would socially sufficient, yet environmentally sustainable, consumption be like (Spengler 2016). The objectives of ENUSE are to (1) define what enoughness in energy consumption means in Finland, and thus (2) understand risks of energy deprivation during the transition towards carbon-neutral energy system from the perspective of enoughness. ENUSE is the first project to approach enoughness in energy use from the perspective of consumption and everyday life, and thus to recognise the occurrence and potential risks of energy deprivation – as well as to identify the ways to address and mitigate these risks as part of endeavours towards a carbon-neutral welfare state, both in Finland and internationally.

In ENUSE, we analyse enoughness by combining three topical and interlinked key concepts into a theoretical framework: Firstly, the right to energy is related to a broader debate on socially just transition to a carbon-neutral energy system (e.g. Hesselman, Varo and Laakso 2019; Sovacool et al. 2019) and crucially, from the perspective of consumption, to different actors’ considerations of justified and rightful use of energy. Secondly, energy needs links the research to the discussion on wellbeing and what are understood as basic needs and ways to satisfy them in a manner that supports inclusion in society (DiGiulio & Fuchs 2014; Gough 2015). Thirdly, the research on limits to energy use seeks to find and agree upon the social minimum and environmental maximum for consumption set by, for example, planetary boundaries and equal division of resources (Godin, Laakso and Sahakian 2020; Hirvilammi, Laakso, Lettenmeier et al. 2013). This theoretical framework helps us to understand what enoughness means in lived experience and to elaborate the theoretical conceptualisations, we employ social practice theory in the empirical investigation of energy use in everyday consumption practices (e.g. Laakso 2017; Shove & Walker 2014).

ENUSE is an interdisciplinary project, combining environmental social sciences with sociology of consumption, and social policy. It employs a wide array of methods from ethnographical to computational approaches, to understand stability and change in household practices with major energy implications. Specific limits of enoughness are not defined solely by the researchers, but together with experts and everyday people. This co-creative, bottom-up and transdisciplinary process enables higher-order learning by both the academic community and wider society on a phenomenon that is still rather unknown in Finland, and provides an important contribution to European and international research on sustainable energy transitions. The international relevance of the project is supported by intense collaboration with research programmes and networks both in Europe and globally. Moreover, the theoretical framework to be developed and tested in the project benefits future projects on the problematics of socially just climate change mitigation.

 

References:

ASSIST 2018. A summary of the National and European measures addressing vulnerable consumers and energy poverty. Online: assist2gether.eu/ (4.8.2020).

DiGiulio, A. & Fuchs, D. 2014. Sustainable Consumption Corridors: Concept, Objections, and Responses. GAIA, 23(S1), 184 –192.

Godin, L., Laakso, S. & Sahakian, M. 2020. Doing laundry in consumption corridors: Wellbeing and everyday life. Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 16(1), 99–113.

Gough, I. 2015. Climate change and sustainable welfare: the centrality of human needs. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 39, 1191–1214.

Heiskanen, E. & Laakso, S. 2019. Editing out unsustainability from consumption: from information provision to nudging and beyond. In Mont, O. (ed.) A Research Agenda for Sustainable Consumption Governance. Edward Elgar, 156–171.

Hesselman, M., Varo, A. & Laakso, S. 2019. The Right to Energy in the European Union. ENGAGER Policy brief No. 2. Online: engager-energy.net/policy-briefs/ (4.8.2020)

Hirvilammi, T., Laakso, S., Lettenmeier, M. & Lähteenoja, S. 2013. Studying Well-being and its Environmental Impacts: A Case Study of Minimum Income Receivers in Finland. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 14(1), 134–154.

Laakso, S. 2017. A practice approach to experimental governance. Experiences from the intersection of everyday life and local experimentation. Doctoral dissertation, University of Helsinki.

Laakso, S., Jensen, C.L., Vadovics, E. et al. 2019a. Towards sustainable and sufficient energy consumption: Challenging heating-related practices in Denmark, Finland and Hungary. Proceedings of the 19th European Roundtable for Sustainable Consumption and Production, 25-40.

Shove, E. & Walker, G. 2014. What Is Energy For? Social Practice and Energy Demand. Theory, Culture & Society, 31, 5, 41–58.

Sovacool, B., Lipson, M. & Chard, R. 2019. Temporality, vulnerability, and energy justice in household low carbon innovations. Energy Policy, 128, 495–504.

Spengler, L. 2016. Two types of ‘enough’: sufficiency as minimum and maximum. Environmental Politics, 25(5), 921–940.

Thomson, H., Bouzarovski, S. & Snell, C. 2017. Rethinking the measurement of energy poverty in Europe: A critical analysis of indicators and data. Indoor and Built Environment 26, 7, 879–901.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *