Reframing water efficiency: towards interventions that reconfigure the shared and collective aspects of everyday water use

Student thesis: Phd


This is a thesis about water efficiency, a particular set of practices in the water industry of England and Wales designed to reduce end-use water demand in homes and businesses. Broadly, the thesis aims to understand how water efficiency activities organised and funded by water companies might more effectively support the development of sustainable patterns of domestic demand, in order to contribute to long-term sustainable water management. To achieve this aim, mixed qualitative methods are used to; a) evaluate the extent to which two non-conventional water efficiency activities engage with the collective elements of everyday consumption that existing research deems necessary to steer demand (Strengers, 2012, Macrorie et al., 2014, Shove, 2014, Geels et al., 2015); b) develop a conceptual understanding of demand management as a professional practice, to understand how Water Company activities are shaped, sustained and stifled; and c) develop an understanding of what future water efficiency activities might look like that take account of the findings from this research.Central to this research and analysis is the notion of 'collective', a term that denotes a conceptual perspective on demand that departs from a focus on individuals, towards the shared social, technological and natural relations that structure everyday activity (Browne et al., 2014). The analysis uses this notion of collectives to examine the impacts and limitations of Save Water Swindon, a large-scale 'whole-town' approach to water efficiency (Case Study 1); to explore how Care for the Kennet contributes to demand management by reconfiguring relations between water in the home and water in the river (Case Study 2); and to uncover the collective context of the professional practices of managing demand (Case Study 3). The findings illustrate that demand is shaped by routines that extend far beyond the spaces in which water is used, both intentionally and unintentionally, and therefore highlight a distributed web of people and practices that might be involved in demand management. The findings from these empirical enquiries are used to as the basis to work with the water industry to reimagine interventions that engage in the collective context of demand, and elicit conceptual understandings of the processes and actors involved in governing social change.Overall, the approach taken in this thesis demonstrates the vitality of practice-based enquiry that provides deep analytical detail to better understand the mundane yet complex processes that sustain everyday water use. Supplementing the analysis with ideas from a variety of social science disciplines and working alongside the water industry, facilitated by the CASE studentship, pushes the analysis beyond the confines of domestic practices typical of practice-based research. Subsequently this research offers contributions to policy, practice and theoretical developments as it explores the intersections between demand and professional practices and local environments, evaluates interventions, examines practices of demand management, and unravels the possibilities for future intervention. Consequently, though focused on water management in the UK, this research offers insights for other resource agendas and regional contexts, expanding discussions in these spaces to think creatively about avenues for future policy and management practice.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAlice Larkin (Supervisor) & Alison Leigh Browne (Supervisor)


  • water
  • climate change
  • water management
  • sustainable consumption
  • demand
  • behaviour change
  • water efficiency
  • social practice

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