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Social and material cogs of the needs satisfier escalator

15 June, 2021

Social and material cogs of the needs satisfier escalator

Noel Cass

Research paper   Transport & Mobility

Noel Cass


Energy consumption does not happen for its own sake, but through the homes and buildings, infrastructures, appliances, and vehicles used in the course of everyday lives. These everyday lives are made up of social practices that relate to work, education, leisure, shopping, sport, and holidays. The Covid pandemic has seen a short-term transformation in some of these elements of lifestyles, but such changes may revert back to their previous unsustainable levels unless the needs that they satisfy are understood and addressed.

Much energy efficiency research focuses on the material and technological drivers of energy demand – the buildings, devices, and vehicles. More sociological approaches to understanding and attempting to address energy consumption behaviours and practices seek to explore how the routines of life that utilise these materials become established across society in ways that are hard to change. The pursuit of ‘the good life’, the fulfilling of human needs using the ‘satisfiers’ that are available, and the locking-in of particular ways of pursuing wellbeing, are ways of understanding energy consumption that go beyond energy efficiency to address energy sufficiency.

Our study explores how high levels of energy consumption can be locked-in through needs satisfaction, by applying Daramy-Williams et al.’s (2019) understanding of “travel decisions as nested in a hierarchy of life decisions” Brand-Correa et al.’s (2020) understanding of lock-in of unsustainable travel-related energy consumption through ‘need satisfier escalation’, and Mattioli’s (2020) exploration of ‘mobility links’ as explaining habituation to long distance travel. We present data from an interview study of 30 ‘high consuming’ households to illustrate the social and material drivers of energy consumption particularly linked to Long Distance Travel.

Publication details

Cass, N. 2021. Social and material cogs of the needs satisfier escalatorOpens in a new tab. Conference paper in: Proceedings of ECEEE Summer Study 2021.

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