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Social Loading and Sustainable Consumption

In this paper, the authors draw on concepts from conventional energy planning to examine the social nature of consumption. This understanding is crucial in light of new efforts to arrive at an understanding of sustainable consumption patterns and how to move toward realizing them. The concept of social load, both base and peak, is defined to help us understand how levels of consumption of energy and other materials are established in the household environment. Cases and examples are used to illustrate the meaning of social load. We show how social loads can be identified, and consider some of the ways in which they are assumed and estimated in the structuring of common household systems. Some of the important determinants of load in the home environment are drawn out, including status and display, sociality and conventionality, security and convenience, and embeddedness in systems and structures. We draw attention to the necessity of viewing consumption not solely as an isolated activity taking place at a point of Aend use,@ but rather as a result of the interplay of multiple forces in society, including commercial actors, public policy, webs of organizational as well as regulatory action, advertising and distribution. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of this social pespective on consumption for both research and policy agendas.
Harold Wilhite, Loren Lutzenhiser
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