If there is to be any effective response to climate change, substantially and significantly new ways of living are urgently required. There is growing recognition of the need for fresh ways of framing problems of climate change, consumption and demand, and for forms of intervention capable of catalysing entrenched habits and practices and of doing so quickly and on a big scale.  Understanding and intervening in the dynamics of social practice are central to the challenge of sustainable consumption.

The SPRG takes a distinctive approach, focusing on social practices and how they evolve over time. Practices can be understood as habits which people share, such as the school run or regular meal times, and are shaped by cultural norms, regulations, technologies and infrastructures.

Such an approach recognises that habits — for instance of eating — are defined by prevailing food cultures and institutional arrangements which differ from country to country. These are, in turn, affected by a global political economy of food which links business, governments, and other actors like the World Trade Organisation. To take a further example, the cooling of occupied space has implications for energy consumption and increased CO2 emissions. In the UK, Europe and beyond, habits and conventions are changing as air-conditioning becomes increasingly normal. Old ways of managing heat and long established understandings of comfort are giving way to new more resource intensive standards.

Rather than treating consumption—for instance of energy or water — as a matter of personal preference, we investigate persistent and emerging cultural conventions and identify social, infrastructural and institutional processes that shape everyday practices in more or less sustainable ways.

In doing so, the Sustainable Practices Research Group seeks to answer three key questions:

  • How and why do practices persist or disappear?
  • How and why do new practices emerge and spread?
  • How can more sustainable practices be encouraged?

The Programme involves seven research projects which will deliver a multi-level (macro-meso-micro) analysis of three environmentally-sensitive practices - eating, water-use and sheltering. In addition, four Fellowships will provide insights into the capactiy and potential of communities, systems of transitions and micro-economic policies for shifting practices of consumption. By examining the importance of collective understandings, routines and  habits, and the material and social circumstances which constrain practices, the programme of research will offer a fresh perspective on policy relevant issues.

The research partnership is organized on a hub-spoke model, with the hub of the Group at Manchester and partners at the Universities of Cardiff, Edinburgh, Essex, Lancaster, Leeds, Queens University Belfast (with additional collaborations at Newcastle and Durham), and  Salford.

The SPRG is funded by the Economic & Social Research Council, the Scottish Government and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

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