Which services enhance ecological, social and
economic sustainability of households?
What is a homeservice?
In a recent study of eco-efficient services it was noticed that the services should be offered to consumers at their home, or near to home (Behrendt et al. 2003). There are basically two underlying reasons. First, if the distance to an eco-service is long, the efficiency gained by using the service is likely to disappear with the transport effects. For instance, if the consumer uses a laundry instead of owning a washing machine, this will have the positive effect of material reduction via less washing machines produced. However, if the consumer has to drive three kilometers back and forth to do her laundry, gasoline use and exhausts released can overweigh the benefits gained. Second, the
4 For instance cars or home PCs are often changed into newer ones not due to breaking apart but for reasons that lie somewhere in the midway between outdated technology or fashion.
5 „We need a bigger car because we sometimes take grandparents with us“.consumers’ willingness to use services with eco-efficiency potential decreases with the difficulty of
reaching the service, e.g. distance or other conditions like difficulty of finding information. 6
Very broadly speaking it could be said that homeservices are services offered to a consumer in connection to living in a home and that can be expected to improve the quality of life of the consumer. However, this definition is far too general and would easily encompass nearly all services that at least remotely relate to the consumer’s daily life. Therefore, for the purpose of the present study, some narrowing definitions of must be made. The first demarcation line relates to the question of sustainability. The homeservices investigated in this study are those that have a certain posi t ive contribution to sustainable development in its environmental, social and economic dimension. The criteria for these dimensions will be elaborated later in this paper.
The second demarcation line drawn in the present study relates to the supply channel of the homeservice. Again, broadly speaking many services offered (mandatorily or voluntarily) by the municipality can be seen to improve quality of life and relating to living in a home. Services such as e.g. daycare for children or public transport could be considered homeservices. Councelling for housing loans by banks could be considered homeservice unless no distinctions were made. Yet it would not make sense for the present research task to study all such services – attempts to find the best practices from among such a crowd would turn out a futile effort. The scope of the study must be further narrowed down. To that end, homeservices especially focused on in this study are those services that are offered either by the housing organization 7, through or with some assistance from it (e.g. providing space indoors or outdoors), or by an external service provider, directly to the resident. Next we will examine these alternative ways of supplying homeservices.
Figure 2. Sustainable homeservices and their supply channels.
Who supplies homeservices? Institutional arrangements of service provision
To answer the above question, we can make use of studies on eco-efficient services. Institutional arrangements around eco-service provision are discussed for instance by Hockerts (1999) and by Heiskanen and Jalas (2000). However, they discuss such arrangements in relation to product-based services. This limits the applicability of the previous discussion for sustainable homeservices. In order to make use of the discussion in connection of sustainable homeservices, we could consider that ‘living in apartment’ is the point of reference. Adopting this perspective, a number of ways of service
6 These alternatives are not the only options to organize washing of clothing and home textiles. A laundry service where a collection van picks up the dirty laundry and delivers back the clean items is yet another model within which to have textiles washed in more efficient and professional washing machines. Such a model might turn out more efficient than either of the options outlined above.
7 Housing organization is e.g. a social or for-profit rental housing provider, or a condominium association.
provision may be identified. In other words, the resident may get the services through a number of different kinds of arrangements. Next we will discuss these options of supply (Figure 2). Firstly, the service provider may be the housing organisation itself (e.g. a condominium association, social or forprofit rental housing provider). Secondly, a service may be offered to the resident by an external service provider (public or private organization) either independently or via the housing organisation. In this alternative, the institutional arrangements can vary. The housing organisation may buy the service from an external service provider (e.g. outsource gardening, cleaning etc.). From the resident’s perspective, the service experienced is basically similar to if it were created by the real estete company’s own personnel. However, from the housing organization’s perspective, we are speaking about external procurement of a service, outsourcing. On the other hand, the external service provider may supply the service independently of the housing organization directly to the resident.
The housing organization may also choose to co-operate with the service provider. Co-production is one alternative. For instance, residents of the housing organization may get a discounted price for the membership of a car-sharing, housing organization provides parking space for shared cars, and assists in the reservation and key exchange. This arrangement is usually contract-based. A lighter institutional arrangement is needed if the housing organization acts as an intermediary between the residents and the service provider, for instance by recommending a certain service provider (e.g. plumber) or by taking over a transaction on behalf of the service provider (e.g. a janitor selling tickets to public transport). In all of the above alternatives, the resident can use the service, but assumes a typical customer role in the sense that s/he does not participate in the production of the service.
There is, however, yet another service model: the resident participates in the actual creation of the service. In this case the service can be organized so that the housing organization provides the necessary material component of a service and the residents do the work themselves. The material component can be durable and shared successively by the residents (e.g. pooling tools), or it can be one-time good (provide paint or other renovation materials). This can be called “supply on demand” option 8. Finally, there is an option where the residents themselves create the service informally, as socially organized self-help (e.g, barter rings, in-house flea-markets, informal tenants’ meetings, neighbourhood association). In this case, the housing organization may have a role as a space provider. The initiator may be either the housing organization or active residents. Figure 2. Options of supply.
8 The term „supply-on-demand“ fits for renovation materials, because the residents has to request them. However, the term is less suitable for tools that are kept in a certain space in the building and can be borrowed by the residents on a continuous basis