Which services enhance ecological, social and
economic sustainability of households?
Services are increasingly offered as a solution to turning our production and consumption more sustainable. The ways in which services are expected to turn society more sustainable vary between the proponents of service thinking. Some of them see the ‘service solution’ from information society perspective: as the structures of industrial production turn from manufacturing dominated to information-intensive service models, de-linking of economic growth and environmental burden occurs (Bell 1976, Jänicke et al. 1989). Some others take a “less automatic” stand point to the role services. They do not foresee that an increasing share of services as a means of livelihood automatically reduce the environmental load. Instead they expect that in order to achieve eco-efficiency gains, service considerations must be crafted into models of production and consumption with the purpoful goal of reducing environmental impact of economic systems (Lovins, Lovins and Hawken 1999).
Sustainability of services has mainly been discussed from an eco-efficiency perspective rather than from a more holistic sustainability point of view. In other words, in the sustainable service literature, the social aspect of sustainability tends to be neglected at the cost of environmental and economic argumentation.
The goal of this paper is to put forward the idea of sustainable homeservices, in other words services that enhance sustainability of living at home. Much of the unsustainable consumption of the affluent Western (and Japanese) consumers occurs in the context of household, i.e. living at home and moving to and from it. However, depending on the consumption cluster (e.g. nutrition, mobility, housing), households alone have only limited – greater or lesser, but still limited – possibilities on influencing their patterns of consumption. There are always other actors who count in setting the frame for consumption choices. For instance with regard to housing and construction, property owners (housing providers), local authorities and service providers influence the housing framework. Or as regards mobility, local authorities and service providers have a lot to do with the transport infrastructure, and therefore they set the limits within which households are able to decide how they fulfil their mobility needs (Spangenberg and Lorek 2002). Therefore it makes sense to seek for solutions for household sustainability with the service perspective in mind. Not only does this perspective capture the products to services aspect, but it also takes into account how the other actors possibilities in influencing the households’ consumption decisions.
This paper is part of a project that seeks to evaluate which housing sector services could be sustainable, and on what conditions
1. The guiding questions underlying the study can be formulated
• In what ways can services potentially contribute to reduction of materials and energy use of in the housing sector, and how can they potentially increase wellbeing of residents/households? (relates ecological and social dimension of sustainability)
• How can these services be organized so that they would be economically feasible both for providers and users, as well as society at large? (relates to the economic dimension of sustainability)
To provide some preliminary answers to the above questions, we will first discuss briefly about characteristics of services in general, then move on to examine eco-efficient services, and what could be sustainable homeservices, i.e. sustainable services offered to households. We will also discuss how the provision of sustainable homeservices could be organised.
What is a service?
What, then, are services? How do they differ from products? Traditionally it is considered that services differ from products in four main respects. First, (1) they are intangible, and (2) in many service operations, production and consumption cannot be separated. Customers are involved and participate in the production process (e.g. personal energy consultation to the resident). (3) Services are experienced differently by different customers (for instance, customers who cannot distinguish between physical goods, e.g.the TV set off the same production line, will normally be able to distinguish between services, e.g. the different maintenance persons of the maintenance firm). Finally
1 HOMESERVICE: Benchmarking Sustainable Services for the City of Tomorrow. Funded by The European Commission Research Directorate-General (H), within the framework of the programme „The City of Tomorrow and Cultural Heritage“.
(4), services are perishable, i.e. they cannot be stored (Baron and Harris 2003, Zeithaml and Bitner 1996, Payne 1993).
However, the difference between products and services become less pointed if we look at product and service offerings more closely. All products include some services (e.g. delivery), and all services require the use of some tangible elements, products (e.g. premises) (Heiskanen and Jalas 2000). This can be illustrated with Shostack’s classical tangibility continuum 2. It is presented beneath with some examples adapted to homeservice context. The model classifies products and services based on the amount of tangible and intangible elements (Baron and Harris 2003, Payne 1993).
Figure 1. Tangibility continuum adapted to the homeservice context.
The definition of services suggested by Heiskanen and Jalas (2000, p. 23) may be suitable for the purposes of this study, because it avoids the pitfall of service versus product definition. According to them, service is an added value for the customer, i.e. economic activity which replaces the customer’s own labour with activities conducted by the service provider, either personally, automatically or in advance through planning and design.