Sustainable futures and household water usage

by Anna Davies and Ruth Doyle

WaterWise Exhibit, Science Gallery 'Surface Tension' Exhibition (Dublin). Photograph used with permission of Des Moriarty.

In 2009 the UK Chief Scientific Advisor Sir John Beddington warned that global society is facing a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges in the context of a changing climate with 50% more energy and food and 30% more water required by 2030. In our Area paper we argue that despite such widely articulated concerns, routinised production and consumption behaviour, particularly within households of western, industrialized societies remains unsustainable. Experimental tools for trying to initiate a significant shift towards more sustainable futures are clearly required. Collaborative visioning exercises are emerging as one way to engage a wide range of stakeholders and members of the public in the design of innovations for more radical advances towards sustainable living. Situated within a wider research project on sustainable consumption (CONSENSUS) our Area paper reflects on the learning potential of multistakeholder visioning exercises held with the aim of generating ideas for more sustainable household heating and washing practices. Concepts developed through this visioning process were clustered and prioritized and three distinct future scenarios were constructed. In addition to formal workshops with stakeholders and the general public we also engaged in a more novel public outreach experiment with the Science Gallery in Dublin. As part of their water-themed exhibition – ‘Surface Tension’, we developed an exhibit ‘WaterWise: Washing Futures’ with illustrator Chris Judge who depicted our scenarios for future washing practices in a fun, provocative format.

Visitors are invited to step into the year 2050 and imagine more sustainable washing routines through the use of advanced technologies and water systems supported by alternative cultural norms and water regulations. Drawing on emerging and envisioned societal and technological trends, the exhibit encourages critical reflection on our washing routines and how we approach sustainability problems. Visitors are asked to provide feedback on the scenarios and in this way they contribute to the iterative nature of the scenario design process, helping to shape policy recommendations for sustainable water consumption. Our Area paper reflects on the benefits and limitations of adopting such collaborative visioning processes and marks the first step in examining what impact they can make to changing how we live now and in the future.

The authors: Anna Davies is Associate Professor and Ruth Doyle is a PhD student, both in the Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin.

Davies A R, Doyle R and Pape J 2011 Future visioning for sustainable household practices: spaces for sustainability learning? Area doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01054.x

CONSENSUS: A cross-border household analysis of CONSumption, ENvironment and SUStainability in Ireland. Project website 2011.

Surface Tension exhibition, Science Gallery, Dublin (open 21 Oct 2011 – 20 Jan 2012).

WaterWise: Washing Futures YouTube video. 7 Nov 2011.

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