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Stigma. How does it relate to energy efficiency?

by on December 4, 2013


I’m just back from an event at Stirling University (what a lovely campus!), on Behavioural Economics* and Domestic Energy Efficiency. At Stirling there is a growing centre on Behavioural Science, interesting times for them.

There are a variety of things I could reflect upon about this event, specifically the nature of Behavioural Economics…., yet I’m going to limit this post to one thing: stigma. It is something that implicitly infuses many of the discussions on energy efficiency, and perhaps, in part, explains the reluctance of some to engage more fully with debates on, and technology for, energy efficiency. Indeed, and following an admittedly incredibly quick online search for academic papers, it seems it this an area somewhat neglected by researchers. The only paper I could find which had energy efficiency and stigma in the keywords/abstract/title, was a paper by Sarah Hards published in Local Environment earlier this year. In it, Sarah explores how status and stigma are bound up in energy practices. A welcome paper which highlights these issues, Sarah’s work is with groups of people who are already largely environmentally aware.

It seems to me, however, that we ought to be considering (in addition to the perspectives that Sarah draws out) how the language of policy and of interventions potentially generates stigma. At today’s event, we were discussing the Winter Fuel Payment, ECO, and the Green Deal (which I previously blogged about here). It was the discussion on ECO that made me think most about this issue of stigma. So what follows is a list of questions/thoughts that I wrote down during the presentations:

1. Does qualification for ECO (funding) stigmatize people?
2. Are labels such as ‘hard to heat homes’/’hard to treat homes’/’hard to engage’ stigmatizing/pejorative?
3. Where do (normative) ideas of ‘good/bad’ energy consumers come from?
4. Who decides what is ‘good’, ‘bad’ or a ‘problematic’ (i.e. hard to heat) home/household?
5. How are ideas of carbon emissions implicated in stigmatization?
6. Are energy efficiency and energy conservation stigmatizing in different ways?
7. If there is an issue of stigmatization in relation to energy efficiency, what are the implications for this in practical and political terms?

I guess the important thing, and what is deserving of far greater interrogation, is the extent to which stigma is experienced in the context of energy efficiency. Clearly this is all rather muddled in my head, but possibly something for us all to consider a bit more carefully. I leave this post with the first image which came up when I searched google images using the term ‘hard to heat homes’. Food for thought?


*Yes, Behavioural economics isn’t really my thing, but I do like to think myself open to other academic perspectives, hence I went along to see what it was all about.

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