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Webinar Series – Sustainability (Episode 1)

Elizabeth Shove: “Beyond attitude, behaviour and choice: practice theory and sustainability”

Written by Stephany C. Amdahl

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The first SOMAT ‘sustainability’ webinar series kicked off on April 3, 2024. The webinar, which was organized in collaboration with the StrongSSH group, focused mainly on theoretical approaches to sustainability and its matters, such as energy consumption and everyday practices. 

In order to bring such a theoretical stance, the webinar was presented by a Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, Elizabeth Shove. The theme: “Beyond the ABC: Practice Theory, Sufficiency and Sustainability”. Shove started by explaining what the ABC concept stands for - Attitude, Behaviour, and Choice – and how such approaches dominate today’s discourse among policy-makers. Accordingly, she argued that such an approach is limiting and that although relevant and resourceful ideas exist to go beyond the ever-going ABC debate, such ideas are scarcely adopted - or even overseen - in climate change policy.

Here, Shove presented social theories of practice as a possible starting point. The concept of ‘practice’ was emphasized as transformative and dependent on the active integration of different elements, such as space, time, and people. In turn, people play the important role of being the carriers and the crossing point of such practices and constantly come in and out of them. In short, she explained that by focusing on individual behavior rather than practices, there is an inherently limiting scale of impact toward sustainable solutions.

The distinction between the concepts of ‘efficiency’ vs. ‘sufficiency’ was also discussed. Shove acknowledged that ‘efficiency’ has become normalized, as it provides services that require less use of (human-) energy by meeting growth, consumption, and market demand. Yet, ‘efficiency’ is detrimental to the environment as it promotes “energy-demanding technologies and practices” rather than improving, saving, and reducing energy consumption. Therefore, ‘sufficiency’ and the reconfiguration of the idea of problems and solutions were considered viable.

Overall, the message sent was clear: we must go beyond the ABC, as well as the idea of efficiency. 

Webinar Series – Sustainability (Episode 2)

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09:00-09:05      Welcome, by Marius Korsnes and Cheng Yu, NTNU

09:05-09:20     TokyoTech: Giorgio Salani-“Craft and ceramics, life-cycle analysis. Challenges and progress in craft pottery”  (10 min presentation + 5 min Q/A)

09:20-09:35     NTNU: Marius Korsnes, “MidWay-project research on sufficiency and meat consumption in China” (10 min presentation + 5 min Q/A)

09:35-09:50     Tsinghua University: Yusong Guo, “Domesticating Clean Technologies: User-Adaptive Trials in the Model of Interessement” (10 min presentation + 5 min Q/A)

09:50-10:05     KAIST: Dasom Lee- “Data Centers' Environmental Challenges: A Comparative Review Analysis and Potential for Policy Harmonization” (10 min presentation + 5 min Q/A)

10:05-10:20     University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS): Chen LV. “Spillover Effects of Heterogeneous Environmental Regulations on Pollution: Evidence from Cities in China.”  (10 min presentation + 5 min Q/A)

10:20-10:30     Final remarks & discussion. How can these topics lead to cross-pollination and collaboration?

The second SoMaT ‘sustainability’ webinar series took place on April 16, 2024. This episode was dedicated to showcasing the ongoing work and research of esteemed representatives from the SoMaT partner universities: Tokyo Institute of Technology (TokyoTech), Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Tsinghua University (THU), Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), and the University of Chinese Academy of Science (UCAS).

1.     TokyoTech:

Representing the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan (TokyoTech), Dr. Giorgio Salani delivered an insightful presentation on his research on the environmental impact of artisanal ceramics: “Craft and ceramics, life-cycle analysis. Challenges and progress in craft pottery.” In that presentation, Dr. Salani analyzed the life-cycle environmental impact of “tableware pottery and similar products” and asked how sustainable it is to make ceramics by hand. 

During the presentation, he highlighted that such a craft ceramics process has an incredibly damaging impact on climate change and resources via CO2 emissions, use of non-renewable energy, and mineral extraction. In conclusion, Salani addressed the challenges and the progress in overcoming such a sustainability problem within craft pottery. Challenges include the need for more innovative technology and sustainability education. At the same time, progress consists of embracing sustainability and circular economy principles, a growing social media network facilitating knowledge exchange and awareness building in this field, and much more.

2.     NTNU:

Representing the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Marius Korsnes presented his five-year research project funded by the European Research Council (ERC): “MidWay-project research on sufficiency and meat consumption in China.”

Korsnes begins by outlining the main objective of the research, which is to “study the concept of sufficiency as a useful organizing principle to achieve sustainable consumption.” Throughout the presentation, he explains that his research is grounded in the empirical evidence of animal-based food consumption in China, highlighting the historical development of the status of meat and milk in the country and the ease of traceability in the country’s production and consumption patterns. He then proceeds to explain the four main methods of this research: (1) archival and analytical research of written resources, (2) interviews and home visits, (3) multi-sited ethnography of the ‘pork’ and ‘milk’ chain, and (4) stakeholder workshops. 

In summary, Korners encapsulates the project’s overall aims into three key points: moving beyond mere efficiency in consumption, fostering conceptual innovation, and addressing the empirical and sustainability urgencies of our time. 

3.     Tsinghua:

Representing the Tsinghua University (THU), Yusong Guo - a PhD student – delivered a compelling presentation on: “Domesticating Clean Technologies: User-Adaptive Trials in the Model of Interessement.” 

Guo contextualizes the background scenario in the Chinese rural area and the government's aim for heating transition, especially from coal-stove heating systems to Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP) and Natural Gas Heater (NGH) heating systems – or clean technologies. Through his work, Guo emphasizes the necessity of social-change processes for clean technologies to replace coal stoves fully and explains that he aims to investigate “how villagers can create new heating models that align with policy and demand requirements.” 

Central to Guo’s investigation, as he explains, is the ‘user-adaptive trails’ focusing on three key aspects: price measurement, adjustment, and transformation. By analyzing these elements, Guo sheds light on the challenges and opportunities in adopting clean heating technologies –ASHPs and NGHs - within rural settings.

In conclusion, Guo highlights that ASHPs have lower flexibility and implementation adaptability in rural areas than NGHs due to a mismatch in “device performance, heating costs, and installation space.” Therefore, as NGHs have higher flexibility and implementation adaptability, they complete “the entire process of domestication of a foreign technology.”

4.     KAIST:

Representing the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Assistant Professor Dasom Lee presented her research on: “Data Centers’ Environmental Challenges: A Comparative Review Analysis and Potential for Policy Harmonization.”

Lee’s presentation highlighted data centers' unrecognized environmental impact on energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, (e-)waste, land use, and biodiversity. Her central inquiry was: “How do existing regulations reflect the environmental challenges of data centers, and what are the potential policy harmonization pathways for data centers in the future?”

Using the PRISMA methodology, Lee's research scrutinized environmental regulations on data centers across the US, EU, and Germany, revealing a quite fragmented regulatory landscape. For that reason, Lee proposes a set of 5 policy harmonization pathways: (1) international standards, goals, and requirements for data center industries, (2) data centers’ participation in energy efficiency programs, (3) renewable energy integration, (4) shorter intervals on data centers’ energy and water use, and heat production, and lastly, (5) monitoring and mitigation on data centers’ impact on water, land, biodiversity, and waste. 

To conclude, she ends her presentation by introducing a few practices that we as individuals can do to diminish our carbon footprint via data centers, such as deleting old emails and even your non-used Facebook account, raising awareness of the problem, and more.

5.     UCAS:

Representing the University of Chinese Academy of Science, Chen Lu delivered a presentation on her quantitative research: “Spillover Effect of Heterogeneous Environmental Regulations on Pollution: Evidence from Cities in China.”

The research focuses on China’s scientific and regulatory environmental pollution control, and there are 3 critical questions that the study attempts to answer:

1-    Do different environmental regulation instruments (ERIs) affect pollution control differently?

2-    Is there a strategic interaction between Chinese cities in pollution control?

3-    Do ERIs’ spillover effects vary among different pollution types?


Chen Lu and her research group conducted a theoretical analysis. They arrived at the following conclusions: (1) “ERIs have nonlinear effects on environmental pollution in the local city,” (2) “Environmental regulations have significant spatial spillover effects on pollution in neighboring cities,” (3) “The spatial spillover effect of ERIs (air pollution) on haze is higher than that of industrial wastewater and solid waste,” and (4) “The long-term effects of economic-incentive ERIs and voluntary ERIs are better than command-and-control ERIs.”

Overall, Chen Lu suggests that future policies should focus on (1) “joint prevention and pollution control among cities,” (2) a “diversified environmental governance system,” and (3) “integration of the command-and-control ERI, economic incentive ERI, and volunteer ERI for complementarity in the environmental pollution control in China.”

Webinar Series – Sustainability (Episode 3)

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