Developing Pro-Environmental Practices within Community Based Initiatives: Eco-Villages and Low Carbon Municipalities

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 16:24
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Sabine HIELSCHER, TU Berlin, ZTG, Germany
Martina SCHAEFER, TU Berlin, ZTG, Germany
Michaela LEITNER, Austrian Institute for Sustainable Development, Austria
Sylvia MANDL, Austrian Institute for Sustainable Development, Austria
Recent years have seen a surge of community-based initiatives within Germany and Austria. These initiatives respond to climate change through the initiation and development of pro-environmental practices, as they experiment with alternatives to mainstream production and consumption practices, domesticate and develop novel low carbon technologies and engage in environmental social innovations. Their approaches to facilitating these activities can be extremely diverse, as they can differ in the way they initiate and link novel pro-environmental practices and the challenges they face in trying to develop and stabilise them over time. Whilst some initiatives tend to focus on sector-specific innovations (such as energy) and develop technocratic interventions into exiting mainstream practices, others have a stronger focus on linking pro-environmental practices in different sectors and have an integrative approach to initiating novel practices. Both approaches bring with them certain challenges and opportunities for facilitating pro-environmental practices.  

Conceptualising the linkages between practices and the influence of interventions on current unsustainable practices is at the heart of social practice theory. Here, theorists have attempted to conceptualise how practices are linked together through time and space and co-evolve to either become incompatible or closely coupled. We examine such co-evolution of practices within community-based initiatives by drawing on six in-depth case studies, including interviews, visits and workshops. Two contrasting community-based initiatives are investigated: eco-villages and low carbon municipalities in order to firstly, draw out potential similarities and differences in the way they initiate and develop pro-environmental practices and intervene in unsustainable practices and secondly, demonstrate how certain material and social arrangements lock community members into unsustainable practices but also facilitate pro-environmental practices. In so doing, the paper aims to contribute to the literature on social practice theory and pro-environmental community-based initiatives, by exploring the linkages between practices and their configurations within two contrasting case studies.