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Towards sustainable and sufficient energy consumption – understanding, challenging and comparing heating-related practices in Denmark and Finland
To facilitate daily consumption patterns towards a more sustainable pathway, we need to understand the prevailing practice cultures within which everyday life occurs. These practice cultures consist of infrastructures, rules, ideas, meanings, conventions and social norms that define what we experience to be the normal, acceptable and appropriate ways of doing laundry, keeping warm and clean, cook and do the other daily tasks – and consume energy in doing so.
This paper addresses possibilities for changes in household practices related to achieving societal and environmental sustainability, based on results from the European initiative ENERGISE, in which households in eight countries challenged themselves to reduce their indoor temperature. Up to 20 households in each country were asked to reduce their indoor temperature to 18 degrees Celsius for a four-week challenge period. To facilitate other ways of keeping warm the participating households were equipped with challenge kits that held different kinds of prompts such as warm clothes, hot drinks, and games. The households then experimented with different ways of keeping warm, whilst they registered (decreasing) indoor temperatures during the challenge period. The aim was to “heat people, not square meters” and thus to innovate and develop new heating-related practices that require less energy for heating homes.
This paper focuses on findings from Denmark and Finland and addresses the similarities and differences in practices related to indoor heating in altogether 37 households, as well as highlights the ways in which the challenges worked (or did not work) at different sites. The paper also aims to understand the various ways technology, ideas and conventions are linked together in the performances of practices, as well as the households’ experience of normal, rightful and sufficient usages of energy in home. For example, many households gained new skills in managing the heating and using the heating system of the house, and learned that new technologies or building characteristics alone are not enough to achieve sustainable levels of energy use for heating, but that changes in practices and ideas related to comfort will have to change as well. Equally, some of the participants were quite surprised about how warm they had kept their living- and bed-rooms, and experienced that they actually felt more comfortable with colder living room temperatures than the ones they had maintained for years out of habit. 18 degrees Celsius, however, proved too cold for many participants.
By observing the changes in heating-related practices in households due to the challenges, as well as by comparing the findings between countries, the paper aims to identify critical factors for shifting consumption practices towards sustainability.