Concluding Comments

This chapter has explored the drivers and components of household carbon footprints. Evidence shows that 'hair-shirt' policies, particularly within the realm of recreation and leisure, are unlikely to gain enough traction to achieve the widespread changes needed (Soper 2008). The 'holy grail' is thus to devise low carbon lifestyles that achieve maximum happiness. However, economic growth (the policy goal of most governments

[1]) aims to increase incomes. But it is generally found that as incomes increase, carbon footprints are likely to increase while well-being levels off (Lenzen and Cummins 2013; Jackson 2009). This raises the question: which policies enhance well-being, or at least do not reduce well-being, while being environmentally beneficial? Such activities represent win-win opportunities for encouraging activities which give rise to relatively low quantities of carbon emissions while at the same time enhancing well-being and happiness.

Reviews of the literature reveal that social activities such as conversing with friends and family, making love, reading and carrying out hobbies are low carbon activities that generally make people happy (Csikszentmihalyi 2006; Holmberg et al. 2012; Kahneman et al. 2004; Caprariello and Reis 2012; Nassen and Larsson 2015). For many of the activities that generally enhance happiness, the carbon emissions depend on how they are carried out. For example, being close to nature and physical activities such as walking, exercising and sport can be relatively low carbon if carried out without the use of personal transportation. Csikszentmihalyi (2006) talks about how goal-orientated activities can induce high levels of happiness. His theory is that when a person is carrying out an activity that is all-encompassing, in that the activity requires total concentration and focus (in other words, the person is “in the flow”) then a high state of happiness can be achieved. Examples of this include playing a musical instrument or singing in a choir, both of which can be done in relatively low carbon ways, but one of Csikszentmihalyi's examples is the state of flow achieved during downhill skiing, and, depending on where one lives, this can be a very high carbon activity. Gatersleben et al. (2008) investigated how volunteering can yield high levels of happiness and, again, this may be carried out in high or low carbon ways. Shopping is an example of an activity that generally brings happiness, but is, arguably, rarely a particularly low carbon activity.

This discussion has highlighted some win-win approaches to reducing carbon emissions while increasing well-being, and these should be key components of strategies for moving towards a more sustainable future. But before closing this chapter it is worth taking stock and standing back to take a whole-systems approach.

A whole-systems approach requires looking at systems of production and consumption in which households play a central role. The economy is circular in nature: in simplistic terms, households earn wages from firms, and firms produce goods and services to sell to the households. Thus producers are consumers, and consumers are producers. Linking this understanding with the earlier discussion in which it was shown that one of the main determinants of a household's carbon footprint is income, and also that households spend or invest all their income, raises another possible win-win situation: that of working-hours reduction.

Reducing the average number of hours worked per week can have both a scale effect and a compositional effect (Gough 2013). Hypothetically, due to the scale effect of fewer hours at work, workers' incomes would be reduced, and thus expenditures and consumption would also be expected to be reduced. With each person working less, there is the possibility of increasing the number of people employed and thus reducing inequalities. High levels of inequality are associated with low levels of well-being (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009), and, furthermore, meaningful work is a generally found to be a positive factor in increasing well-being (Diener and Seligman 2004). Hence sharing the work may yield multiple benefits (Hayden 1999).

The compositional effect can be explained as follows: with lower incomes but less time at work, people's use of time outside work would be expected to change, as would the composition of their expenditure baskets. For example, rather than buying ready-meals, people may be more inclined to cook from raw ingredients. Now such changes in time and expenditure budgets might result in higher or lower carbon emissions. For example, with less time pressure, people might walk and cycle for short journeys rather than drive. On the other hand, some people may drive further and more often to visit friends. But if we look back to the graph in Fig. 9.1, we see that there is good evidence that lower incomes will, in general, result in lower carbon footprints.

Reducing the working week has been shown to enhance the work-life balance (Nassen and Larsson 2015; Kasser and Sheldon 2009; Eurofund 2013). For example, Hayden (1999) records how French employees reported overall improved quality of life when their working week was reduced to 35 h. In another investigation 400 Swedish employees who had their worktime reduced to 6 h per day for 18 months reported improved life satisfaction, health and a more equal gender-balance on time spent on housework (Bildt (2007) cited in Nassen and Larsson (2015)).

The suggestion of reducing working hours must be taken with an important warning concerning low income groups. Currently many low paid workers are struggling to meet their weekly household expenses (MacInnes et al. 2014; The Living Wage Commission 2014), and therefore any initiative to reduce the working week must be accompanied by special measures to protect them. If these are put in place, then work-time reduction offers a promising way to reduce unemployment by sharing the work, leading to reduced inequalities, while at the same time offering high prospects of increasing well-being and reducing environmental burdens (Hayden and Shandra 2009; Victor 2008; Jackson 2009; Coote et al. 2010; Knight et al. 2013; Pullinger 2014; Rosnick and Weisbrot 2007).

In conclusion, this chapter has reviewed the main determinants of Western household carbon footprints. What is clear from this body of work is that, seen from a consumption perspective, the majority of carbon impacts arise from transportation, food and housing. The need to improve systems of provision of food, energy and transportation and renovate or rebuild inefficient housing stock is therefore indisputable. However, where possible these measures should be supplemented by other approaches. For instance, through further analysis it is evident that recreation and leisure leads to the single highest proportion of household carbon emissions. Opportunities should therefore be sought for low carbon leisure activities which also enhance wellbeing. Such activities might include for instance spending time with friends and family in and around the home, or engaging in physical recreation in the local community.

One inescapable finding from this body of work is that income is one of the principal drivers of carbon emissions, with carbon footprints increasing with increasing incomes. Incomes also appear to drive the rebound effect. These understandings led us to a wider, whole-systems approach in which we view households as an integral part of the system of production and consumption. Policies on work-time reduction, with appropriate measures to safeguard low income households, can offer additional win-win opportunities that, to some extent, overcome this stumbling block. Ultimately, however, income growth is driven by economic structure. Approaches which tackle the structural implications of economic growth are also essential to a meaningful understanding of the potential to reduce carbon footprints. In summary, industrial ecology, with its wide ranging systems approach as shown in this chapter, has a great deal to contribute to the quest to devise strategies to move towards lower carbon, fulfilling lifestyles.

Acknowledgements We are grateful for support from the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for funding the Research Group on Lifestyles, Values and Environment (RESOLVE) (Grant Number RES-152-25-1004) and also for support from the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the ESRC and the Scottish Government for funding the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group (SLRG).

  • [1] The notable exception to this was Bhutan which has had for some years, the goal of increasing gross national happiness (Zurick 2006).
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