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Low Carbon at Work: Modelling agents and organisations to achieve a transition to a low carbon Europe

Research project The proposed project will advance understanding of the drivers of and barriers to sustainable lifestyles by an integrative investigation of the determinants of everyday practices and behaviours within large scale organizations.

The proposed project will advance understanding of the drivers of and barriers to sustainable lifestyles by an integrative investigation of the determinants of everyday practices and behaviours within large scale organizations on different levels: a) analysing the patterns of production and consumption in the workplace with their resulting GHG emissions; b) analysing organizational strategies to reduce emissions and implement EU regulations regarding the “greening” of their production processes. c) everyday practices and behaviours at work of employees on different levels of decision-making within the organization. d) the relationship between behaviours and practices at work and behaviours and practices outside work. e) the patterns of interaction between relevant agents and stakeholders in the organization’s environment and the resulting barriers and drivers for implementing sustainable practices and behaviours in the workplace.

Head of project

Nora Räthzel
Professor, senior
E-mail
Email

Project overview

Project period

2011-01-01 2013-12-31

Funding

Finansår , 2011, 2012, 2013

huvudman: Nora Räthzel, finansiar: European Union, y2011: 680, y2012: 680, y2013: 680,

Research subject

Sociology

Project description

The project will advance understanding of the drivers of and barriers to sustainable lifestyles by an integrative investigation of the determinants of everyday practices and behaviours within large scale organizations
i. by identifying how carbon consumption practices in the workplace and the home can be transformed
ii. by enhancing our understanding of how these two important areas of our lives can be made to work together to achieve a transition to a sustainable society

Patterns of unsustainable production and consumption have been recognized as main causes of climate change. The renewed Sustainable Development Strategy 2006 of the EU states that “the main challenge is to gradually change our current unsustainable consumption and production patterns and the non-integrated approach to policy-making” (European Council 2006, p.2). Despite cross-cutting multidisciplinary research and policy efforts in most European states it has not been possible to achieve significant changes in consumption and production which would reverse or slow down the devastating projections outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (2007) for our ecosystem.

This is also recognized by the progress report on the EU’s Sustainable Development Strategy 2008, which concludes that “although a wide range of actions is being initiated, there is only limited evidence in the area of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) that countries are scratching beyond the surface of this fundamental objective” (ECORY p.8). One year later the 2009 Review of the EU´s Sustainable Development Strategy highlights the fact that “despite considerable efforts to include action for sustainable development in major EU policy areas, unsustainable trends persist and the EU still needs to intensify its efforts” (p.15).

While some reductions can be made through carbon trading and other flexible mechanisms agreed upon under the Kyoto protocol, with some countries overachieving agreed-upon goals (see: European Environmental Agency, 2009), in the long term it is vital to enhance the efforts of individuals, organisations, and societies at large to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through changes in the patterns of production of goods and services as well as regarding their consumption.

Governments now recognize that climate change and its consequences need to be addressed by changing peoples´ behaviour and everyday practices and that technological fixes alone will not be enough. Even where they can play a role the environmental effectiveness of technological “solutions” is contingent upon the way in which users engage with and deploy them (Midden, Kaiser and McCalley, 2007).

The proposed project will advance understanding of the drivers of and barriers to sustainable lifestyles by an integrative investigation of the determinants of everyday practices and behaviours within large scale organizations on different levels:
a) analysing the patterns of production and consumption in the workplace with their resulting GHG emissions;
b) analysing organizational strategies to reduce emissions and implement EU regulations regarding the “greening” of their production processes.
c) everyday practices and behaviours at work of employees on different levels of decision-making within the organization.
d) the relationship between behaviours and practices at work and behaviours and practices outside work.
e) the patterns of interaction between relevant agents and stakeholders in the organization’s environment and the resulting barriers and drivers for implementing sustainable practices and behaviours in the workplace.

1.1. ii) Studying large scale organizations

Large organizations are responsible for a significant amount of GHG emissions. An estimation in the year 2000, which considered 8 different categories of sources of GHG emissions (industrial processes, power stations, transportation fuels, among others), showed that the potential contribution of large organizations to global warming over the next 100 years will be highly significant: 72 % CO2, 18 % Methane, 9 % Nitrous Oxide (Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research, 2000).

The emissions generated by large organizations result from their production processes and the pressures under which they function within our economic system. Following the new EU regulations, national governments have also passed laws concerning emissions and have created policy instruments designed to reduce or compensate the level of emissions of specific organizations in order to reach national and European goals. As a result of these new regulations, organizations have also started to implement mechanisms to reduce their GHG emissions. However, as stated in the EU Sustainable Development Strategy Review 2009, these strategies have not been sufficient to ensure significant reduction rates. To better articulate efforts undertaken by relevant actors towards sustainability, we need to identify the barriers to and drivers of sustainable changes in everyday practices in the workplace.

As a key practice of everyday life, work is a place and space where the sometimes contradictory demands of economic profit and environmental sustainability meet and are negotiated, with the resulting effects on work practices, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. As people spend an important part of their lives at work, within a community of values, norms and everyday practices, it is also the place where identities are negotiated, where individual values are transformed and where sustainability-related behaviour is either promoted and rewarded or hindered and discouraged (Brown, Kirpal & Rauner, 2007).

As production and consumption are intimately related, changing patterns of production can not only directly reduce GHG emissions, but can have a significant indirect effect, by influencing what is available for consumption. If we address changes in production patterns, we will have addressed the upstream causes of environmental problems. This has only recently started to be explored in the social sciences (Uzzell & Rathzel, 2009).

Large employers also hold a high potential for change. As a main area of human life, work is vital in fulfilling basic human needs, both economic (survival, protection, affiliation) and expressive (identity, self-actualization) (Brown, Kirpal & Rauner, 2007). This means that changes in labour regimes can be highly effective and have the potential to be translated to other domains of life. In spite of this potential, research on sustainable everyday practices at work and on the factors promoting or hindering them has been scarce in the social sciences that are concerned with sustainable lifestyles. (see section on family-life interface for the respective literature review).

There is a tendency to see work as distinct from the rest of life. Not only do individuals in organizations bring in their values, lifestyles, socio-economic conditions, and multiple identities and find creative ways of adapting to the organizational environment, they are also active agents in creating, maintaining and transforming work practices, but they also have the potential to take learned practices from the workplace to their homes and other everyday settings.

The general research questions are:
• How do everyday behaviours and practices in the workplace act as barriers and/or drivers for changes towards sustainable low-carbon paths at individual, organizational and societal levels?
• How are EU regulations, market demands and civil society groups pressures managed in everyday practices at work and what kind of barriers and/or drivers for individuals and organizations do they generate, in engaging on sustainable low-carbon paths?
• How do organizations produce barriers and/or drivers for individuals engaging on sustainable low-carbon behaviours and everyday practices within the present EU policy and economic milieu? How do the relations between different social actors at work impact on the (un) sustainable performance of the organization and its members? Which individual factors influence sustainable behaviour in the workplace?
• How do people connect practices from one area of life to another and what impact does this have on their identities, roles and everyday behaviours related to sustainability?
• What conflicts and barriers exist regarding cooperation between policy-makers, employers and civil society organizations (unions as a barrier or a driver) in transitioning to a sustainable, low-carbon, society; what examples of good practice exist and what are the conditions for them?