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What is a homeservice? What is a sustainable service? Discussion and intermediate conclusions

SUSTAINABLE HOMESERVICES?
Which services enhance ecological, social and
economic sustainability of households?

by
Halme, Minna
Jasch, Christine
Scharp, Michael

What is a sustainable service?

In recent years discussion on the so-called welfare services as well as eco-efficient services has been increasing. These discussions, however, have tended to remain separate. Occasionally, in passing, in the eco-efficient service discussion it is mentioned that certain services contributing to eco-efficiency also may have social or economic sustainability impacts (Heiskanen and Jalas 2000). Nevertheless, the concept of “sustainable service” is yet to be discovered and defined. HOMESERVICE will try to make one of the first – rather pragmatic – steps.

One possible start point could be the question: how to judge whether a service is sustainable or not? The notion of WCED (1987) offers one possible spring board for approaching the concept of sustainable service:

In essence, sustainable development is a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both the currect and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.

The notion stresses that all components: ecology, economy and societal considerations should be in harmony in for the development to qualify as sustainable. Consequently, for a service to be classified “sustainable”, it should have a positive impact on each of the areas of sustainability.

What is a sustainable homeservice?

As we are not studying all possible services, but services assisting in living more sustainably at home, we must move the discussion to the household context. If we look at sustainable services in connection to households, it is possible to identify a number of pressure points that connect to different levels of analysis. For instance, the rapid growth in the number of households taking place in many Western countries imposes a major burden on infrastructure support (space, basic utilities provision, transport links etc.) on the socio economic system, and the environment (Turner 1998). A further example is taking care of the aging population of the Western countries will either require building more and more old people’s homes or provision of more sophisticated set of services in order to make it possible for the elderly to live at home by themselves. The former is often considered economically unsustainable alternative, and is also less preferred by the elderly themselves.

Another pressure trend that can be highlighted include the household use of energy - for heating, domestic appliances and the car. Regarding all of these, despite the fact that resource efficiency gains derived from technological improvements 9 have accumulated, these gains have been offset by the steep rise in the total number of households (which is due falling average size of households) (Turner 1998). At the sectoral level (housing sector), aggregate trends in resource use are continuing to rise. This implies that problems in the housing sector cannot be solved by technological solutions only but that social innovations are also needed. Sustainable service thinking is likely to offer one source of innovation 10.

Services may offer one solution to alleviate the above and other pressures relating to environmental and socio-economic problems in the housing sector. Previous studies on sustainable households have focused upon household functions or needs. These would involve e.g. shopping, cooking, eating, clothing care, shelter 11, personal hygiene, food storage and preparation, leisure activities within the home, and transportation (Vergragt 2000, Gatersleben and Vlek 1998). Within these functions, the researchers have tried to prepare scenarios of “alternatives for more sustainable household” and study their feasibility (Vergragt 2000). In this study, we can draw on household functions. However, since we are focused on functions but on the potential of services to make “living at home” more

9 Such as more efficient domestic heating systems, smaller or less energy consuming electrical appliances, and the installation of building insulation.

10 This is not to say that in the HOMESERVICE project we would not be interested in technological developments. On the contrary, many of the good or best practice service examples identified so far are made possible by a technological innovation component (especially ICT). However, our starting point for identifying and assessing services is the user perspective, not the technological innovation as such.

11 I.e. heating or cooling and lighting at home.

sustainable (and are offered by or via the housing organization), instead of functions we will approach
household sustainability through a variety of housing/household service areas:

• Consulting and information (on environment and energy, social aspects, financial aspects)
• Care and supervision (of building, apartment, person, and pets)
• Leisure time services/activities (sport, social aspects, culture and communication, food
services and catering)
• Repairs
• Mobility and delivery (vehicle rental and sharing, parking areas for other than private cars,
delivery, other logistics)
• Safety and security (of building, apartment, persons)
• Supply and disposal (energy and water supply, and waste disposal)

Many of these service areas lie within the consumption clusters of households that are the most environmentally relevant as identified by Spangenberg and Lorek (2002). They found that the total resource requirement of only three clusters, construction and housing, food and nutrition, and transport and mobility makes up for nearly 70 % of material extraction and energy consumption and than 90% of land use (Spangenberg and Lorek 2002).

From within these service areas, best-practice services as well as potential market niches for sustainable services will be identified.

How to assess sustainability of homeservices? Suggestion for criteria

In the above it was argued that a service could be considered sustainable if it has a positive impact on all three dimensions of sustainable development: ecology, economy and societal aspects. How to put this principle in practice? During recent years, indicators of sustainability have been drafted by different constituencies, e.g. Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) (UNDSD 2002), the Human Development Index (HDI) by UNDP (UNDP 2001), and the Daly-Cobb Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) (Mannis 1998). However, so far no coherent indicators neither for household consumption nor for related services have been developed (Lorek 2002). The first problem that one runs into when attempting to apply the above mentioned sustainability indicators to service level or sector level is that they are mainly suited for national-level analyses. Another concern from the perspective of this study is that many of them are at such a basic needs niveau that they do not make the most sense in a developed country context like Europe, but are better suited for assessing urgencies of less developed countries. For example, the CSD indicator for housing is floor area per person. A CSD-indicator for urbanization of population is ‘population of urban formal and informal settlements’.

However, these indicators can serve as one source for pointing areas within which household or housing related micro-level service sustainability indicators could be developed. Furthermore, they not only point out areas but some of them offer an aggregate indicator from which to work downwords to develop more micro-level determinants for assessing whether the focal service has a positive sustainability effect. Developing micro-level indicators for environmental sustainability is slightly easier as some work has already been done both for indicators of environmental impacts of household consumption (Lorek 2002) and for assessing eco-efficiency potential of services (e.g. Heiskanen and Jalas 2000, Hockerts 1999) 12. From among the 14 environmental indicators of household consumption developed by Spangenberg and Lorek (2002) and Lorek (2002), at least nine can be drawn upon - not used as such – for developing criteria for the assessing environmental potential of services directed to households. These are indicators for: heating energy consumption, resource intensity, living space, organic products, food transportation, shopping and recreation transport distances, modes of transport for vocational, shopping and recreation purposes, and number of passanger cars.

The criteria for assessing sustainability of homeservices has a particular problem. It stems from the fact that we are looking at open systems. It is not only difficult, but in many cases impossible to draw a meaningful boundary around the ‘system where the service has its influence’. In an open system, the problem arises that we do not have a fixed point against which the potential impact of the service

12 Hockerts’ (1999) proposes a test of eco-efficiency of a service according the following indicators: longer-life option, lesser material and energy consumtion during use, revalorisation potential and efficiency of use. Heiskanen and Jalas (2000), on the other hand, adopt a more general perspective and suggest that benefits resulting from products to services can be: lower manufacturing volume, less impact during the use phase of the product, lower stock of products, and higher rate and quality of utilization of end-of-life products.should measured. Even in a simple case, if we look at a particular building and a service offered to its residents, it may be possible to see e.g. that a common room reduces need of individual space, but it cannot be measured exactly how much space is being saved – the result would always remain to some extent hypothetical.

Therefore, our criteria for assessing the sustainability of homeservices are bound to be ‘relative criteria’, indicating a move to a positive direction, e.g. “increasing employment” or “promote environmentally friendly transport”, “reduce waste”. No absolute value is involved. The question immediately arises: what amount of improvement counts for a criteria to be fulfilled? This is occasionally problematic especially with regard to some social and economic criteria. How to judge if a service increases social contacts? Or empowerment? Or promotes regional economy (almost any service gives some kind of an input to regional economy)? Here we are in the worst case left with only gut feeling of a group of environmental management experts as a basis for assessment.

Secondly, it was said earlier in the paper that one decision rule for a sustainable service could be that it should have a positive impact on each three areas of sustainability. However, a pre-study (IÖW 2002) indicated that this maybe too strict: a service that causes a clear environmental improvement and increases comfort of the residents, but does not have a positive economic effect would be excluded from the list of sustainable homeservices. As a pragmatic solution it could be suggested that if a service fulfils two of the three sustainability conditions, it could be considered sustainable. Based on the above, we can draw the following definitions of sustainable homeservice:


General definition of sustainable homeservice: a service that relates to living at a home and contributes positively to sustainable development in its environmental, social and economic dimension.

Specific definition of homeservice in this study: (1) a service that relates to living at a home, (2) contributes positively to sustainable development in two of its three dimensions, and (3) is offered either by the housing organization, with some a

The preliminary list of HOMESERVICE indicators for ecological, social and economic sustainability together with some illustration of their contents are in Table 2

Environmental aspect
Social aspect
Economic aspect
Item Example Item Item Example
Material
Us e : q u a n t i t y &
t y p e , d u r a b i l i t y ,
waste
Protect the less privileged
Increasing
employment
I n c r e a s e j o b s , s t i m u l a t e
workplaces for disadvantaged
groups
Water
quantity & quality
Improve health
Financial
si tuat ion of the
resident
I m p r o v e m e n t v i a e . g .
f a v o u r a b l e p r i c e s f o r l owincome groups, consulting on
debt reduction
Energy
Quantity & energy
s o u r c e , p r omo t e
renewable
Improve safety
P r o m o t i o n o f
regional economy
Emissions
R e d u c t i o n o f
emissions
Reduce annoyance (e.g.
n o i s e , o d o r , p o l l u t i o n ,
nuisance)
Co n t i n u a t i o n o f
the organization
P r o f i t a b i l i t y t h a t s e c u r e s
continuation of operation

Agriculture&
farming
P r o m o t i o n o f
organic practice
Improve social contacts
S t i m u l a t i o n o f
non-monetary
economy
e.g. socially organised selfh e l p , b a r t e r s h o p s , s w a p
internet sites

Space
R e d u c t i o n o f
private space need
I n c r e a s e c o m f o r t o f
residents
Special funding
Reducing gap between prices
at micro-level and effects at
macro level by funding special
activity

Transport
Distance & mode
(e.g. car vs. bike)
Increase quality of life in
the neighbourhood
Profitability
The effect of the service on
profitability of service provider
or housing organization
Biodiversity I n c r e a s e o f
b i o d i v e r s i t y o r
amount of green
space
Empowerment: residents’
participation in decisionmaking that affects them
   
    Promot ion of awareness
about sustainability
   

Table 2. A preliminary set of indicators for sustainable homeservices.

Finally, social and economic criteria are occasionally overlapping. For instance, in criteria for social aspects, the category “protect the less privileged” can in connection of some services overlap with the economic indicator “stimulate workplaces for disadvantaged social groups”. The latter point, however, is not necessarily a major concern since it reflects the situation that occasionally occurs in real life: some outcomes lie in the socio-economic sphere and should not be artificially separated.

In the HOMESERVICE methodology of assessing sustainability of services, we will still take one step further. A five-point ordinal scale of each indicator is developed, and the housing services identified as potentially sustainable will be rated along this scale. Table 2 depicts the rating scale with one example indicator from each sustainability dimension. As mentioned above, our indicators are relative, i.e. they indicate a move towards a positive (or negative) direction, e.g. a reduction in waste or an increase in employment. For a relative method the point of reference is an important element. For our method the point of reference is the ‘status quo’ alternative where the service would not exist (i.e. the ‘current situation’ or the ‘do nothing/base line scenario’). This would score 0 in the scale.

Durability (environmental)

The effect of the service on the life span of related products

-2 -1 0 1 2 NA

Shortens the life span of related products

Lengthens the life span of related product

Promote social self-help (social)

The effect of the service on the social self-help, barter shops and swap internet sides

-2 -1 0 1 2 NA

Less opportunities

More opportunities

Employment (economic)

The effect of the service on the employment

-2 -1 0 1 2 NA

Less jobs/job opportunities lost

More jobs are created

2: a major positive change
1: a substantial positive change
0: the service does not make a change to status quo
-1: a substantial negative change
-2: a major negative change
NA: not available/not possible to assess

Table 2. A condensed example of the ordinal rating scale with one indicator from each sustainability dimension