Overcoming Barriers to Energy Sufficiency

Marie-Laure Falque-Masset, Vice-President for Energy Sufficiency at FEDARENE, emphasises the importance of voluntary energy reduction through behavioral changes and collective organisation, addressing psychological barriers and involving energy users in shaping policies and practices.

Overcoming Barriers to Energy Sufficiency

Sufficiency is a voluntary approach to reducing energy and resource consumption based on behavioural changes, lifestyle, and collective organisation. Contrary to energy efficiency, which relies on technology, the French High Council for the Climate claims that sufficiency “consists first and foremost of a rigorous reflection on our needs, then adapting our consumption according to those needs.”

Elsewhere, the Club of Rome’s famous Limits to Growth report argued that “confidence in technology as the ultimate solution to all problems diverts our attention from the most fundamental problem: growth in a finite system”. But rather than disregard technology – efficiency is after all the second pillar of the energy transition – we must recognise sufficiency’s place as a social innovator.

In practice, sufficiency looks like: not buying unnecessary equipment or opting for reconditioned goods, favouring built-to-last products over the forcedly obsolete, exploring solutions proposed by low-tech, or even developing digital sufficiency as part of an IT master plan.

Despite the information, incentives, and pleas, many find it difficult to implement changes because of psychological barriers that Robert Gifford called the “demons of inaction”:

  • Limited cognition: we think we know a subject well but ignore it or leave the responsibility to others;
  • Ideology: we think that the free market, a deity, or some technology will solve the problems, or we live in too-comfortable a situation to assess the situation honestly;
  • Social pressure: we adapt to the behaviour of others (neighbours, family, friends, colleagues);
  • Sunk costs: if one has recently invested in a car, one may resist switching to a bicycle soon;
  • Discredit: lack of trust in the authorities, denial or minimisation of energy and environmental problems
  • Perceived risks: fear of change, shame, being misunderstood, losing money
  • Limited behaviour: believing you are already doing your part and don’t need to do more, or overusing a frugal piece of equipment, thereby cancelling their sufficient qualities (e.g. driving more often because you have a fuel-efficient car, leaving LEDs on).

Identifying these constraints is an essential step towards a meaningful sufficiency policy. But, as sufficiency questions our use of energy, it also demands a greater interest from us. That is why energy users should be involved in the creation of public policies and those of organisations. The ACTIFS network (led by AREC) connects energy and climate agencies with other actors who offer training to individuals, communities and companies in the form of challenges for citizens, serious games, demonstration areas, and educational bureaus. Together, our behaviour makes the difference.

Marie-Laure Falque-Masset is FEDARENE Vice-President for Energy Sufficiency. She also works in the Climate-Energy Department of the Paris Region Institute.

This editorial is part of our publication “Sustainable Regions in Action 2023”. Find out more by clicking here to discover best practices from FEDARENE members as well as an overview of our activities.