Beyond demand management: co-managing energy and water practices with Australian households

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This paper highlights the problems and assumptions ingrained in dominant demand management programmes designed to address issues of erratic household energy consumption, urban water shortages and increasing peak electricity demand. It begins by highlighting the problematic divide between energy and water production and the seemingly separate sphere of consumption. This divide fails to consider the ways in which consumption shapes, and is shaped by, resource production and provision. The paper argues that, by focusing on the individual consumption of resources, demand managers overlook the changing dynamics of everyday practices for which resources are consumed, such as bathing, laundering, heating and cooling. This is problematic because these practices are continuing to shift and change, often in more resource consuming, expensive and environmentally damaging directions, potentially negating the resource savings achieved through demand management programmes and policies. To address these oversights, this paper proposes an alternative resource management paradigm which brings together the conceptual strands of co management and social practice theory. By shifting emphasis away from co managing resources and onto co managing day to day practices, a range of new opportunities for change emerge. The paper presents the concepts, methodologies and strategies central to this new paradigm and contrasts these with demand management approaches. Avenues for change include focusing on the 'intermediaries' of demand (taps, showers, appliances, etc.), the material infrastructure of housing, co operatively owned and/or managed resource systems, campaigns to instigate new cultural practices or collaborative partnerships established during some variable pricing programmes. However, the paper warns that making the transition towards this new paradigm requires urgent research and policy attention. It concludes by proposing a research agenda which aims to highlight both the complications in continuing to ignore the relationship between production and consumption, and the benefits of co management approaches which attempt to bridge this divide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-58
Number of pages24
JournalPolicy Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Co-management
  • Demand management
  • Everyday life
  • Residential energy consumption
  • Residential water consumption
  • Social practices

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