CIEMAP REPORT: Understanding Consumption

Our team has produced a new report that considers consumption and the ways in which we use products. Consumption is a key driver behind demand for materials and energy and this report explores the factors that determine consumption in order to identify opportunities to move towards a low carbon future.

Read the report here: CIEMAP REPORT 2

This report is a synthesis of some of the research conducted by the centre thus far. It highlights key areas of interest and possibilities for further research.


This report is the second produced by CIEMAP researchers. The first report considered the ways in which industrial energy and material demand reduction can contribute to a low carbon future for the UK.

Read the first report here: CIEMAP REPORT

Energy consumption-based accounts: A comparison of results using different energy extension vectors

A new paper by Anne Owen, Paul Brockway, Marco Sakai and John Barrett explores energy consumption-based accounting in the UK. Read the full paper here.

Abstract: Increasing attention has been focussed on the use of consumption-based approaches to energy accounting via input-output (IO) methods. Of particular interest is the examination of energy supply-chains, given the associated risks from supply-chain issues, including availability shocks, taxes on fossil fuels and fluctuating energy prices. Using a multiregional IO (MRIO) database to calculate energy consumption-based accounts (CBA) allows analysts to both determine the quantity and source of energy embodied in products along the supply chain. However, it is recognised in the literature that there is uncertainty as to the most appropriate type of energy data that should be employed in an IO framework. Questions arise as to whether an energy extension vector should show where the energy was extracted or where it was used (burnt). In order to address this gap, we undertake the first empirical MRIO analysis of an energy CBA using both vectors. Our results show that both the energy-extracted and energy-used vectors produce similar estimates of the overall energy CBA for the UK—notably 45% higher than territorial energy requirements. However, at a more granular level, the results show that the type of vector that should be employed ultimately depends on the research question that is considered. For example, the energy-extracted vector reveals that just 20% of the UK’s energy CBA includes energy extracted within the UK, an issue that is upmost importance for energy security policy. At the other end, the energy- used vector allows for the attribution of actual energy use to industry sectors, thereby enabling a better understanding of sectoral efficiency gains. These findings are crucial for users and developers of MRIO databases who undertake energy CBA calculations. Since both vectors appear useful for different energy questions, the construction of robust and consistent energy-used and energy-extracted extension vectors as part of commonly-used MRIO model databases is encouraged.

Homes as machines: Exploring expert and public imaginaries of low carbon housing futures in the United Kingdom

Catherine Cherry and Nick Pidgeon explore low carbon housing futures in the UK in the latest edition of Energy Research and Social Science. Read the full article here.


Low carbon housing policies embody visions of the future that shape and constrain current choices between different technological pathways. These socio-technical imaginaries include expectations around new ways of living and interacting with technology, with implications for everyday lives. This paper investigates existing expert visions of low carbon housing, and explores these futures with members of the public; utilising empirical data from policy documents, expert interviews and public focus groups. Two competing expert visions of low carbon housing were identified: Passivhaus and Smart Homes. Whilst portrayed as divergent futures, both visions aimed to ‘design out’ the role of occupants, achieving emissions reductions through changes to the built environment and maintaining current lifestyles; a position that was reinforced by an imagined public that was unable or unwilling to accept the need for lifestyle change. This construction of the public did not consider the complex personal and cultural dimensions that influenced public acceptability of future housing: specifically surrounding themes of comfort, control and security that arose within the focus groups. The tensions arising between expert and public imaginaries highlight the difficulties that may surround any transition towards a low carbon future and demonstrate the need to work with, rather than around, the public.

Consumption-based carbon accounting: does it have a future?

Marco Sakai, Kate Scott, and John Barrett have published a new paper in WIREs Climate change. Read the full article here.

The authors review the future of consumption-based (BC) carbon accounting, which attributes responsibility for emissions on the basis of consumption instead of production. The article provides an account of the benefits for international climate policy derived from adopting such an approach. It also discusses the counterarguments and presents the spectrum of implementation possibilities, ranging from the status quo to more transformative options. Finally, it looks at how CB accounting may be adjusted to fit with current political realities and identifies policy mechanisms that could potentially be used to address CB emissions.


Internationally, allocation of responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is currently based on the production-based (PB) accounting method, which measures emissions generated in the place where goods and services are produced. However, the growth of emissions embodied in trade has raised the question whether we should switch to, or amalgamate PB accounting, with other accounting approaches. Consumption-based (CB) accounting has so far emerged as the most prominent alternative. This approach accounts for emissions at the point of consumption, attributing all the emissions that occurred in the course of production and distribution to the final consumers of goods and services. This review has a fourfold objective. First, it provides an account of the logic behind attributing responsibility for emissions on the basis of consumption instead of production. Issues of equity and justice, increased emissions coverage, encouragement of cleaner production practices, and political benefits are considered. Second, it discusses the counterarguments, focusing in particular on issues of technical complexity, mitigation effectiveness, and political acceptability. Third, it presents the spectrum of implementation possibilities—ranging from the status quo to more transformative options—and considers the implications for international climate policy that would accrue under various scenarios of adopting CB accounting in practice. Fourth, it looks at how CB accounting may be adjusted to fit with current political realities and it identifies policy mechanisms that could potentially be utilized to directly or indirectly address CB emissions. Such an approach could unlock new opportunities for climate policy innovation and for climate mitigation.

For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.

Scenario analysis of embodied greenhouse gas emissions in UK construction

Jannik Giesekam and John Barrett have published a new article: ‘Scenario analysis of embodied greenhouse gas emissions in UK construction’ in the Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers – Engineering Sustainability. Read the full article for free here.


Motivated by national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions budgets, the UK construction industry is pursuing reductions in emissions embodied in buildings and infrastructure. The current embodied GHG emissions benchmarks allow design teams to make a relative comparison between buildings and infrastructure but are not linked to sector or national GHG emissions reduction targets. This paper describes a novel model that links sector-level embodied GHG emissions estimates with project calculations. This provides a framework to consistently translate international, national and sector reduction targets into project targets. The required level of long-term GHG emissions reduction from improvements in building design and material manufacture is heavily dependent on external factors that the industry does not control, such as demand for new stock and the rate of electrical grid ‘decarbonisation’. A scenario analysis using the model suggests that, even if external factors progress along the better end of UK government projections, current practices will be insufficient to meet sector targets.

After Paris, UK’s latest ‘carbon budget’ just isn’t ambitious enough


Kate Scott and Marco Sakai have published an article in The Conversation that interrogates the UK’s latest carbon budget. Read the full article here.

After Paris, UK’s latest ‘carbon budget’ just isn’t ambitious enough

A major new climate policy was announced by the UK government on June 30, almost unnoticed in the Brexit aftermath. The media’s focus on Westminster backstabbing meant the country’s latest “carbon budget”, widely heralded as unambiguously good news for the environment, hasn’t had the scrutiny it deserves.

The “Fifth Carbon Budget” effectively commits the UK to reducing emissions by 57% from 1990 levels by sometime between 2028 and 2032. These budgets serve as five-year “stepping stones” towards achieving an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 – the ultimate aim of the 2008 Climate Change Act. Budgets are determined years in advance to enable the required policy planning.

A 57% cut sounds great doesn’t it? The problem is that the Paris climate agreement hugely increased levels of ambition. This budget no longer ensures the UK is doing its fair share globally to prevent dangerous climate change.

Adapting Darnton’s Nine Principles framework for scaling up individual upcycling

Kyungeun Sung and Tim Cooper presented a new paper at the 2016 Design Research Society 50th Anniversary Conference in Brighton in June 2016.


Read the paper here: An alternative approach to influencing behaviour

Abstract: Behaviour change or influencing behaviour has recently been recognised as a new role of design by design academics and practitioners. Some approaches have been explored in past research, yet most focused on behaviour intervention generation as a form of product design or communication design. In the meantime, increasing interest in design as a way of thinking and as an effective tool for policy and service innovation in the public sector calls for wide-ranging approaches for design and policy interventions. This paper therefore suggests an alternative approach as a response to such calls. Darnton’s Nine Principles framework is critically reviewed as an overarching framework, and adapting this framework, the early stages of behaviour intervention are proposed. The application of the alternative approach to influencing behaviour is demonstrated by giving an example of scaling up individual upcycling. The paper concludes by discussing the value and usefulness of the suggested approach.

Industrial Energy Use and Carbon Emissions Reduction: A UK Perspective

Geoff Hammond and Jonathan Norman have published a new paper in WIREs Energy and Environment. Read the full paper here: Industrial energy use and carbon emissions reduction


Progress in reducing industrial energy demand and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is evaluated with a focus is on the situation in the United Kingdom (UK), although the lessons learned are applicable across much of the industrialized world. The UK industrial sector is complex, because it may be viewed as consisting of some 350 separate combinations of subsectors, devices and technologies.
Various energy analysis and carbon accounting techniques applicable to industry are described and assessed. The contributions of the energy-intensive (EI) and nonenergy-intensive (NEI) industrial subsectors over recent decades are evaluated with the aid of decomposition analysis. An observed drop in aggregate energy intensity over this timescale was driven by different effects: energy efficiency improvements; structural change; and fuel switching. Finally, detailed case studies drawn from the Cement subsector and that associated with Food and Drink are examined; representing the EI and NEI subsectors, respectively.
Currently available technologies will lead to further, short-term energy and CO2 emissions savings in manufacturing, but the prospects for the commercial exploitation of innovative technologies by mid-21st century are far more speculative. There are a number of nontechnological barriers to the take-up of such technologies going forward. Consequently, the transition pathways to a low carbon future in UK industry by 2050 will exhibit large uncertainties. The attainment of significant falls in carbon emissions over this period depends critically on the adoption of a limited number of key technologies [e.g., carbon capture and storage (CCS), energy efficiency techniques, and bioenergy], alongside a decarbonization of the electricity supply.

Individual upcycling in the UK: Insights for scaling up towards sustainable development

Kyungeun Sung presented her paper in the Symposium on Sustainable Development Research at Universities in the UK (Manchester) on 6th of April. The paper will be published as a book chapter in W. Filho (Eds), Sustainable Development Research at Universities in the United Kingdom, London: Springer, by end of this year.

See the presentation file here:

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