Mainstreaming best practices in energy demand

Sylvia Breukers, Julia Backhaus, Oksana Mont

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It is becoming increasingly clear that we need an integrated
approach to understanding and encouraging transitions towards
a sustainable energy system. Current overall unsustainable
‘practices’ are locked into cultural, material, institutional
and infrastructural settings. This limits the scope for individual
choice and action. Even when actions are taken on individual
or project level, they often remain stand-alone niche experiments
and little further diffusion takes place. This paper addresses
this problem by investigating how new more sustainable
practices in the field of energy demand at the micro level
can become mainstream and how energy demand side management
projects can encourage this.
We first discuss how a multilevel systems approach and practice
theory may be fruitfully combined to address the problem
of mainstreaming. Second, we analyse four empirical cases of
energy demand side management. We explore efforts at diffusing
these sustainable energy practices, the encountered challenges,
employed solutions and achieved outcomes with the
goal of learning about opportunities to mainstream best practices
in the field of energy demand. The analysis reveals that the
case that involved the most radical innovation faced the highest
resistance to mainstreaming from the incumbent system. The
more incremental initiatives were more successful at diffusing,
but had rather modest outcomes in terms of environmental and
efficiency gains. An important finding is that in order to shift
everyday practices to a more sustainable direction, an understanding
of possibilities to trigger changes in social norms is
needed. When these changes are quite invasive, more time for
negotiation and discussion might be needed before they become
regarded as legitimate. Furthermore, connecting supply
and demand (instead of merely addressing the demand side)
can be crucial in mainstreaming sustainable energy practices.
Although lessons learned from the cases do not offer clear-cut
‘do’s and don’ts’ for future efforts, they do highlight important
issues for mainstreaming sustainable practices. These issues
can sometimes be addressed within the scope of a single energy
demand side project, but often policy has an important
facilitating role to play in making sustainable energy practices
legitimate and mainstream.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationECEEE 2011
PublisherEuropean Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ECEEE)
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2011
EventECEEE 2011 - Presqu'ile de Giens, France
Duration: 0001 Jan 2 → …


ConferenceECEEE 2011
CityPresqu'ile de Giens
Period0001/01/02 → …

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • energy demand
  • management behaviour
  • practces


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