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Opportunities and limitations of carbon footprint calculators to steer sustainable household consumption – Analysis of Nordic calculator features

Salo, M., Mattinen-Yuryev, M.K., Nissinen, A.
Journal of cleaner production 2019 v.207 pp. 658-666
carbon footprint, energy, hosts, household consumption, issues and policy, lifestyle, people, public services and goods, society, travel, Scandinavia
The current patterns of household consumption are environmentally unsustainable, especially in wealthy societies such as the Nordic countries. Globally, housing and energy use at home, travel, food, and the consumption of other goods and services contribute to roughly 60–70% of greenhouse gas emissions. Online footprint calculators have been introduced as a soft policy measure in order to raise public awareness of the carbon footprint of ordinary living. We examined ten calculation tools and interviewed six calculator hosts to study calculator features and hosts' expectations and experiences on engaging people to use calculators and to steer consumption. Our findings show that knowledge intensive calculators are designed to support a rational reflection of lifestyle and activities from an environmental perspective. Tips and pledges are presented in calculators to support taking action. However, engaging people to use calculators, especially more than once, is often considered to be challenging. We further discuss our findings with a framework based on practice theories and point out how features of calculators hold potential for further development, as well as have limitations. The limitations should be taken seriously in considering the role of calculators in policy-mixes to steer household consumption. We also propose that future studies on calculators would benefit from practice approaches in order to further explore patterns of calculator (non)use and how calculator use is (dis)connected from the practices they aim to change, and to avoid over emphasising the role of knowledge in reconfiguring practices.