This report deals with everyday habits with environmental impacts in relation to the use of information and communication technology (ICT, colloquially referred to as IT).
We raise issues related to a) how environmentally promising and problematic ‘ICT-practices’ in urban everyday life can be identified and b) how the potential for such practices to be transformed through the use of ICT can be assessed, and ultimately utilized, in the context of sustainable urban development.
These issues we have addressed through reviewing case studies, reports etc. Case study examples showed how ICT is used, e.g. to streamline and inform, or to share resources, vehicles and other products.
We discussed how it might be possible, from an environmental sociology perspective, to assess when and how ICT might serve as an enabling technology that enhances or replaces previous patterns of action. We also briefly included, and discussed, phenomena defined from more general sustainability science point of view, e.g. substitution, induction and rebound effects.
An important starting point was that social structures both enable and limit specific patterns of action. The structures can only be said to exist, or be maintained, by people's actions and through their experience. Change occurs as a result of the dynamics between people's actions and the structures created by past actions. Social practices are constantly being reproduced, with additions of new elements, e g when ICT applications are put to new uses. Then patterns of social relations and systems might also change, for example in how we use energy, travel, consume or socialize during both work and leisure time.
Our review indicates that the knowledge that partners of Centre for Sustainable Communications (CESC) currently have access to, is fragmented and with a bias towards certain types of sectors, and patterns of action. Environmentally promising practices are more researched than problematic ones. Furthermore, use of ICTs for e.g. commuting and monitoring household energy use is more researched than most other patterns of action involving use of ICTs. Research on e.g. leisure and entertainment in relation to the environment is very much absent from today’s body of knowledge (as it is defined and delimited in this report).
As for how everyday practices might change towards increased environmental sustainability by the use of ICT, we have found the knowledge situation even more incomplete. This shows, however, that it is worthwhile for CESC researchers and partners to carry on searching and developing knowledge regarding this.
Regarding what should be viewed as more promising respectively more problematic urban patterns of action, we have to some extent illuminated this by exemplifying international environmental sociological research that is useful for discussing social practices in relation to environmental impacts. We have exemplified how this can shed light on some of the case studies we found among the CESC researchers and partners. Based on environmental sociology we discussed in what ways city dwellers with high income account for the most environmentally problematic practices. Correspondingly, we discussed how inhabitants with low income – out of necessity–account for many promising practices. In relation to this we also briefly discussed how rebound effects should be seen as related to socio-economic position.
Another kind of problematic aspect highlighted is that players responsible for introducing, trying out etc., new ICTs, seem to have a tendency to do this in own networks or among the urban middle class. This is problematic from a democratic point of view. In 2012, 1.2 million people in Sweden did very rarely, or not at all, use the internet in their homes. Detailed knowledge about this group's ICT related practices seems to be largely missing. If representatives for these groups are not represented in environmental research there is a danger that they also become less visible in public debate of environmental and ICT issues.
This means that different social positions imply different opportunities and constraints. What patterns of actions people take more or less part in is influenced by social structures, norms and regulations, the historical and the immediate context, but also by the individuals' previous experiences and knowledge. The understanding of how a change towards a more sustainable society could come about through use of ICT therefore requires knowledge of practices among the full socio-demographic range of city dwellers.
KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2014. , 50 p.
vardagliga vanor, sociala praktiker, miljöhandlingar, handlingsmönster, livsstil och miljö, energianvändning, hållbar utveckling, hållbara städer, IT, IKT