Beyond energy efficiency and individual behaviours


Labanca, N., Bertoldi, P. (2018) ‘Beyond energy efficiency and individual behaviours: policy insights from social practice theories’, Energy Policy, Volume115, Pages 494-502

A new paper ‘Beyond energy efficiency and individual behaviours: policy insights from social practice theories’ argues for the application of an ‘energy justice’ approach to policy making, suggesting that it could be more effective than environmental justice or climate justice as a framework for making more equitable policy decisions.

The paper is co-authored by Nicola Labanca, Visiting Researcher, Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand (Demand) Centre, July and August 2016.


  • Limitations of current policy approaches to energy conservation are discussed
  • A complementary policy approach based on social practices theories is presented
  • Examples of policies informed by a practice theories perspective are provided.


This conceptual paper deals ultimately with the intricate relationships existing between quantity and quality in the field of energy conservation policies. It discusses how current policy approaches to energy conservation have energy efficiency and individuals’ behavioural change as principle target. It then argues that their limited impacts derive largely from how they are principally informed by quantitative estimates of reductions in energy inputs and neglect how qualitative changes generated in the energy outputs can either offset these reductions (e.g. more energy efficient motors can enable the production of larger cars consuming more energy) or cause higher savings (e.g. smaller cars can consume less energy even with less efficient motors). The paper also explains these limited impacts in terms of overly simplistic cause-effect relationships assumed to exist between given exogenous factors (e.g. provision of information, price signals, etc.) and individuals’ behaviours. It then shows how radically alternative policies for energy conservation can target qualitative changes and re-organisations in energy outputs. In doing so, it takes social practice theories as theoretical background. Finally, it discusses the potentially very high impacts and the alternative character of policies informed by these theories and shows how and where they indicate to intervene.

A full version of the paper is available to download via the ScienceDirect website.

Find out more about the Demand Centre

A brief overview of the End Use Energy Demand Centres (EUED) Centres.