Rethinking Demand

Project Launch. The Climate Emergency Economy project in 2022 will focusing on rethinking demand for energy and materials.

Our continuation of the Climate Emergency Economy (CEE) project in 2022 focuses on one crucial aspect of the shift away from ‘business-as-usual’: how to reduce demand for materials and energy.

European economies have been trying to deliver the same good and services using less energy, and to some extent fewer materials. This focus on improving 'efficiency' has in some cases led to rebound effects where the total consumption of goods and energy demand actually increases. Overall, the focus on 'efficiency' and technology substitution has failed to deliver the emissions reduction we need.

This project therefore explores the scope, need and implications of rethinking not just how we use energy and material to deliver goods and services, but rethinking what goods and services are needed to deliver a good life for all. For instance, rather than just thinking about how we can keep homes and offices between 18 and 21 degrees all year round with renewable energy: what if we reconsider how much, and what type of heat is needed for everyone to be comfortable? What if we rethink transport to not just make vehicles more 'energy efficient', but also reconsider what mobility and access to services adds to people's wellbeing? If all services can be provided such that they can be easily accessed without a car, there is much more scope to deliver transport systems with lower energy and resource requirements.

Rethinking Energy Demand
Framing Report published in collaboration with Green European Foundation - If industrialised European societies are to reach zero carbon on a timescale compatible with limiting climate change, they must significantly reduce their energy demand. This will disrupt business-as-usual.
Framing Report - Published Oct 2022
Heating and Cooling of Buildings
This Policy Briefing applies recommendations of the Rethinking Energy Demand framing report to the heating and cooling of buildings. It outlines the current context, the need to reduce the number of buildings heated and the amount of heating and cooling needed within them.
Policy Briefing - Published Jan 2023

This broader decomposing of the energy systems in our society is may well not just be an advantage, but a necessity. Reproducing existing consumption levels with marginally less energy and resources is insufficient to shift our economy to zero carbon and deliver on 1.5℃ target, because there is very little time, resources and renewable energy to build all the goods, vehicles and machinery required. Only by reworking our economies to focus on the goods and services which make the biggest contribution to wellbeing for all, can we reduce the total energy and material demand sufficiently to fit within ecological limits.

Such a fundamental re-designing of our economy requires reconsidering many wider aspect of our societies that shape and motivate demand. Social institutions, advertising, the common understanding of historic trends, infrastructure investment and familiarity with technologies allow influence what energy and materials our society uses, how they are used, and to some degree who benifits from them. Therefore the social and political aspect to demand must be considered alongside the technical options.

The project will explore how to frame rethinking demand politically, and articulate clear plans for demand reduction so green narratives are better grounded in reality and a share a vision of hope. This will focus on:

  1. The livelihoods, community and regional resilience benefits of demand reduction
  2. How rethinking demand relates to political thinking regarding desire, temperance and sobriety to align communication to the transformations needed
  3. Grounding decarbonisation pathways in practical limits, in contrast to techno-optimism and green-washing

Green House think tank is leading on this Green European Foundation organised project, and is collaborating with Green Foundation Ireland, and Etopia (see project webpage). The project will span 2022 and lead with a series on interviews, research and close round tables. In the Autumn series of publication will follow along with public events.

Project Events & Publications:

Reality and Opportunity - Events October 2022
Join Rethinking Demand Project Events in Dublin, Belfast and online across Europe. These events are collaboration between the Green European Foundation, Green House Think Tank (UK), Green Foundation Ireland, and Etopia (Belgium).
Project Public Events in October 2022
Rethinking Demand: EU Roundtable - Green European Foundation
About the event As Russia’s war in Ukraine puts pressure on energy supplies across Europe, governments are preparing for an uncertain winter, with concepts like rationing and controlled blackouts suddenly on the table. Yet the need to structurally rethink our demand for energy and other key goods i…
Closed Round Table Event

The Slippery Slope of the Energy Descent
Swen Ore looks back at the history of rationing to imagine how a progressive decline in energy use might be managed.
Swen Ore is part of Etopia who are a project Partner
A Climate of Disruption
The inevitable upheaval as the consequence of our regime of accumulation is well and truly upon us. Today, every aspect of our daily lives seem to be unravelling. How can we exist in an age of multiple escalating forms of disruption? Can we envisage ways to work with and through that disruption?
Robert Magowan is part of Green House Think Tank's Core Group

Rethinking Demand: Realities and Opportunities - Green European Foundation
About the event The Green European Foundations is bringing together Green House Think Tank (UK), Etopia (Belgium) and Green Foundation Ireland at an event hosted with the Lord Mayor of Dublin Caroline Conroy. This event will launch our Rethinking Demand Framing Paper and explore the complexity of th…
Project Webpage on Green European Foundation Website