An open letter from the BRI Editor to Informa / Taylor and Francis and BRI’s readers and authors

Dear Stephen Carter, Leon Heward-Mills and Richard Delahunty,

The decision by Taylor and Francis (T&F) to terminate my contract as Editor in Chief of Building Research & Information (BRI) is based solely on one criterion: the length of time in post.  As T&F’s global publishing head of journals, Mr Heward-Mills stated this is based on a desire to bring in “new voices” – but he has failed to define what this means or how this is beneficial.  It is overly simplistic to suggest this can only be done by the removal of the Editor.  Evidence has been provided to show how we actively already achieve this for BRI in terms of gender, geography, career stage and areas of expertise.  We achieve this by an active programme of adding new people – their voices and their insights.  These new voices contribute to our diversity and vitality at many levels: particularly the associate editors and editorial board members who have a fundamental role in the decision processes, but also our guest editors, reviewers and authors.

It is bizarre that you emphasize new voices but you ignore the existing voices of our community. Many authors, readers and reviewers have raised their voices to protest Informa’s decision. First this occurred in many private letters from individuals as well as the organisations that endorse the journal. Following a lack of meaningful response from T&F, the Editorial Team and Board detailed their queries and concerns in two open letters. The first responded to T&F’s decision to terminate my contract, whilst the second responded to their request for a meeting and continued oversight of the Board’s concerns. Indeed, 48 people (associate editors and editorial board members) have resigned en masse. In their second letter, they stated:

 ” … we find the tone and content of your [Leon Heward-Mills’] response disingenuous and dismissive of our primary concerns.”

Taylor and Francis and its parent company Informa plc have failed to answer questions raised by the journal’s editorial board.

More broadly, objections have been raised via social media, and over 870 people (at the time of writing) from our community have signed a petition objecting to T&F’s decision and ask that it is rescinded. Their reasons (based on the comments they provided) fall broadly into several categories:

  • it is not in the journal’s and the community’s interest
  • the decision-making process was flawed – there was no consultation, no transparency, no underpinning evidence, no consideration of other factors and it violates the parent company’s stated principles
  • the high quality of leadership and service that I provide is unique and highly valued in our field.
  • it is an ‘unjust’ way to treat a successful editor
  • it represents poor management of succession planning
  • it will damage the reputation of Informa / Taylor and Francis

Informa / T&F has completely disregarded the voices of the community it purports to serve. It is clear that widespread discontent exists over the Informa / T&F decision to terminate my contract.

At a more fundamental level, there are serious misgivings about the poor governance and management processes involving how this decision was made:

  • Violations of Informa’s stated values and principles:
    • Striving for “excellence in all we do.” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 4)
    • “We will work in a fair and ethical way within the markets in which we operate and will seek to maintain a position of respect, reliability and integrity.” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 8)
    • “We incentivise, reward and recognise people solely on their ability to perform and excel at their role.”  (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 4)
    • “Handling relationships ethically, lawfully and with integrity doesn’t stop at our colleagues: we expect this of anyone who works with or on behalf of Informa” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 3)
    • “Our colleagues are how we will be successful and we can support them through training, wellbeing and the provision of opportunity. This will help with the retention, recruitment and support the delivery of our growth ambitions.”        (Informa plc, Sustainability Report, 2016, p 7)
    • “We making hiring and role progression decisions based solely on relevant qualifications and merit…” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 5)

 

  • There is no evidence underpinning this practice. Should T&F work to industry “norms” or strive for excellence? NB: only one publisher espouses a maximum 15-year tenure for editors – but this publisher makes exceptions for its excellent editors (one is in post for 23+ years). Another rival publisher has an excellent editor in post for 33 years.
  • No evaluation of this practice – how does it foster excellence?
  • No ethical evaluation of how this practice affects the particular journal and its stakeholders
  • Inconsistent application by T&F management:
    • Lack of communication about this practice to editors and within T&F
    • Practice arbitrarily applied within T&F (some editors are in post for 25 years, others 21 years, etc)
  • No clear, stated process to account for specific context. How does T&F differentiate between a poetry and physics journal?
  • Single criterion decision process – other important criteria marginalised
  • No prior consultation with Editorial Board and other key stakeholders (the many professional and research organisations that endorse BRI)
  • No meaningful engagement with the feedback provided by the Editorial Board – they have provided evidence to show “new voices” are actively involved in the journal

These grave concerns raise doubts in the community of authors and readers about the publisher’s stewardship of this journal. Success in academic publishing depends upon the creation of trust and integrity, which have now been eroded hugely by Informa / Taylor and Francis. The arrogant disregard of the representations from our research community constitutes a significant breach in your stewardship.

Sincerely,

Richard Lorch, RIBA

Editor in Chief, Building Research & Information

Response: Second open letter from BRI EDITORIAL TEAM & BOARD MEMBERS to Taylor & Francis

The discussion continues between the Editorial Team and Board Members of Building Research & Information (BRI) and the publishers Taylor & Francis (T&F). In response to T&F’s decision to terminate the contract of the Editor-in-Chief, Richard Lorch, the Editorial Team and Board Members wrote an open letter detailing their grave concerns and reasons for their resignation. T&F have responded to this, and the Board have subsequently written an open reply. Both of these documents are copied in full below. 

Open letter from BRI Editorial Team and Board Members to Taylor & Francis. Sent Thursday 1st March 2018

Dear Mr Heward-Mills

Thank you for your email of February 22nd 2018. We agree that there is scope for all parties to resume working together, but only if our primary concern that Richard Lorch remains as editor of Building Research and Information is addressed. 

We have previously articulated numerous benefits that Taylor & Francis gains by having Richard in this role as well as the potential damage to the journal should it not be the case.   With support through the petition for retaining Richard Lorch by the larger international academic and research community already nearly 800 signatures, the serious concerns for his dismissal clearly extend well beyond the Editorial Team and Board members.

We appreciate that you continue to “fully recognise Richard’s contribution as an editor-in-chief of more than twenty years, his on-going standing in the field, and the networks he has built.”  However, we find the tone and content of your response disingenuous and dismissive of our primary concerns. In your opening statement you state that you “have read and listened to all of them”, yet the evidence does not support this claim. The earlier form letter you sent in response to editorial board members’ individual letters of concern merely confirmed the fait accompli and the letter to you from the BRI Editorial team on January 15th went unanswered.

 There has been no evidence provided about why “rotation” is needed, why a particular fixed length of time is necessary and why Taylor & Francis only works to “the norm”. The evidence and assessments we presented to you – from many individuals and the collective Editorial Board – has been ignored. The decision-making process has not been transparent or justified and certainly not indicative of your willingness or interest in listening to our concerns or advice. 

We would consider having representatives from the board meet with you to discuss this concern, and to help find an independent moderator for this meeting. However, before this meeting we need to be clear that the option of Richard remaining as Editor-in-Chief beyond the end of 2018 is on the table. Since we have strenuously defended this position, we are not able to meet to discuss a decision that has already been made unilaterally by the publisher or participate in a selection process for a new editor-in-chief.

We would be willing to meet if constructive progress is made during a meeting between Richard and the publishers to reconsider the termination of his contract. As a positive outcome for all parties, we again put forward a compromise solution of a transition period to at least the end of 2020 with Richard remaining as editor under the same conditions as before.   

Yours sincerely,    

Dr Wim Bakens, CIB, Netherlands

Professor Gail Brager, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Dr. Sarah Burch , University of Waterloo, Canada

Professor Edwin Chan, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Raymond J Cole, University of British Columbia, Canada

Professor Ian Cooper, Eclipse Research Consults, UK

Dr Robert Crawford, University of Melbourne, Australia

Dr Sarah Darby, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Richard de Dear, University of Sydney, Australia

Dr Michael Donn, Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand

Dr Chrisna du Plessis, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Professor Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University, Denmark

Dr Jessica Granderson, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, USA

Professor Guillaume Habert, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Dr Kathryn Janda, University College London, UK

Professor Charles Kibert, University of Florida, USA

Professor Niklaus Kohler, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Mr Adrian Leaman, Usable Buildings Trust, UK

Dr Mark D Levine, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, USA

Professor Kevin Lomas, Loughborough University, UK

Professor Robert Lowe, University College London, UK

Professor Thomas Lützkendorf, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Dr Tove Malmqvist, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Professor Daniel Mueller, NTNU, Norway

Professor Shuzo Murakami, Institute for Building Environment and Energy Conservation, Japan

Mr Robin Nicholson CBE, Cullinan Studio, UK

Dr Sarah Outcault, University of California, Davis, USA

Dr Wei Pan, University of Hong Kong, China

Dr Sofie Pelsmakers, Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark

Professor Bruno Peuportier, Mines ParisTech, France

Professor Gary Pivo, University of Arizona, USA

Mr Rajan Rawal, CEPT University, India

Professor Christoph Reinhart, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Professor John Robinson, University of Toronto, Canada

Dr Serge Salat, Urban Morphology Institute, France

Professor Kaixun Sha, Shandong Jianzhu University, China

Professor Geoffrey Qiping Shen, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Alan Short, University of Cambridge, UK

Professor  Elizabeth Shove, University of Lancaster, UK

Professor  Stefan Siedentop, Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development (ILS), Germany 

Professor Philip Steadman, University College London, UK

Professor Fionn Stevenson, University of Sheffield, UK

Dr Yolande Strengers, RMIT University, Australia

Professor Henk Visscher, Technical University Delft, The Netherlands

Dr Faye Wade, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Professor Jennifer Whyte, Imperial College London, UK

Professor Harold Wilhite, University of Oslo, Norway

Professor Yi Jiang, Tsinghua University, China

 

Letter from Taylor & Francis to BRI Editorial Team and Board Members. Sent Thursday 22nd February 2018

Dear Building Research and Information editorial team and board,

Thank you for your open letter and your on-going messages of support and advocacy for Richard, which we have read and listened to since first raising transitioning the Building Research and Information leadership role to a fixed-term, rotating editor-in-chief position.

We would like to start by saying we very much endorse everything you have said regarding Richard’s work. As we have said in various correspondence and in our face-to-face meetings, we fully recognise Richard’s contribution as an editor-in-chief of more than twenty years, his on-going standing in the field, and the networks he has built.

As discussed with Richard, the practice of fixed-term, rotating journal leadership roles is a growing norm for scholarly journals. Having a time limit on these roles (i.e. journal editor and editor-in-chief) opens up opportunities for a wider variety of people to apply, who may not be able to commit to an open-ended position. However, we also recognise and acknowledge the upset this is causing the Building Research and Information editorial team and board.

We have been in contact with you via email to invite you to a meeting with the Taylor & Francis team, where we can fully discuss this decision, answer all your questions, and Richard’s on-going involvement on Building Research and Information (including the key Emeritus Editor role offered to him).

We look forward to hearing from you in the next two weeks and to picking up this discussion in person.

Best wishes,

Taylor & Francis

Petition: Save BRI’s Editor

A petition to keep Richard Lorch in post is available here. The recent decision by Taylor and Francis (T&F) to terminate Richard Lorch’s role as editor-in-chief of this leading research journal is a mistake. Building Research & Information is thriving under Lorch’s vision, direction and efforts. The high quality of content and mentoring under this editor must continue.

Twitter:  #saveBRIeditor

An open letter from Building Research & Information EDITORIAL TEAM & BOARD MEMBERS to Taylor & Francis

The publisher of Building Research & Information, Taylor & Francis, has recently decided to terminate Richard Lorch’s contract as Editor-in-Chief at the end of 2018. This action has sparked grave concern amongst the members of BRI’s editorial board. What follows is an open letter written by the board to the publisher. It details the concerns of the editorial board, the action that they took to try to dissuade Taylor & Francis, and the subsequent response from the publisher. All of the signatories of this letter have tendered their resignation from post.

Dear Mr Heward-Mills & Mr Delahunty,

We are aware that you have decided to terminate Richard Lorch’s contract as Editor-in-Chief of Building Research and Information on 31st December 2018. This is deeply shocking and we strenuously disagree with this decision. It is not in the best interests of the journal or the community served by the journal.

The only apparent criterion given for this decision was that an editor should have a limited period of office. This was claimed by yourselves to be an industry standard. This is not the case; we have presented you with clear evidence of long-serving editors in other excellent academic journals. Some of BRI’s esteemed and flourishing “rival” journals have had editors in post for upwards of 30 years. Indeed, Taylor & Francis’ own Construction Management & Economics editor held his post for 25 years.

As highlighted by one board member:

“The notion that a rotating editorship is ‘ …necessary to ensure the journal continues to evolve, to enable new voices and allow new networks to build on current ones‘ (quoted from correspondence received from Richard Delahunty) is spurious. There are in fact many “new voices” in BRI – a new associate editor and 12 new editorial board members, not to mention the numerous new authors who are added to the journal with each addition, all generating new networks.” (Fionn Stevenson)

We are surprised that you have not taken into account the widespread support that exists for Richard Lorch to continue and his exemplary role. You have failed to consult or involve editorial board members, associate editors, authors, readers or reviewers. Many people are aggrieved by your position:

“An inability to reconsider [your decision] reveals contempt for the associated research community: those that write the articles, review them, read them, pay for subscriptions through their libraries, and in many cases pay directly to have articles published.” (Jennifer Whyte)

Over 40 individual letters of protest from the editorial board members were sent to you. These demonstrated the broad and varied contributions that Richard Lorch makes to the Journal, and the community’s overwhelmingly positive experience of working with him. All of these communications arrived at the same conclusion that Richard must not be dismissed. Your process for arriving at a decision is one-sided and thus betrays our community’s interest and views. You have ignored us.

We have provided numerous valid reasons for retaining Richard Lorch as Editor-in-Chief. In particular, we have highlighted how he captures the diversity of research taking place in this field and keeps the journal current and vital. We noted Richard’s ability to draw a variety of disciplines together; his activity in increasing the readership of BRI, including engaging in new social media outlets and developing BRI’s influence in China; and his commitment to maintaining a diverse range of editorial board members, associate editors, reviewers, authors, and readers. Taylor & Francis have ignored or swept aside all of the evidence that was offered to them.

This dismissal of an excellent editor:

“betrays a failure at Taylor & Francis to understand how successful academic journals work: how they are built up by their editors by patient work over many years, by the editors having rich and widely spread networks of contacts, by their being in touch with all the latest developments in the field, and being able to spot future trends. Above all good editors can harness the good will and hard work – all without financial gain – of all the contributors on whom journals depend. Good editors of this kind are rare and not easily replaced.” (Philip Steadman)

Although you have lauded Richard Lorch and acknowledged his sustained accomplishments in making BRI an outstanding journal, you have been unable to offer substantive evidence-based reasons for your decision to dismiss him. The use of time as a determinant is arbitrary. A decision must be evidence-based and must take into account the performance of an editor and the journal.  Clearly, the performance of the journal and its editor are excellent.

We consider an ethical practice as one that would evaluate who benefits and who is damaged by a particular decision. There has been no process to evaluate this and we believe that your decision process was not ethical. You have dismissed the damage done to our community.

We are extremely disappointed that Taylor & Francis were unwilling to consider the reasonable compromise solution offered by BRI’s associate editors and that we all endorsed. We suggested maintaining Richard’s contract to at least 2020 to support the delivery of papers and special issues for which he has already commenced planning. We are now unable to provide guarantees of support to the authors and guest editors who had committed to these.

As a result of Taylor & Francis’ ill-considered decision and the manner in which they have conducted themselves, we are now resigning as members of the Editorial team and Board effective immediately.   If Taylor & Francis’ notion of determining the continuation of a successful editor depends upon a single and indicator that is poorly and inconsistently applied, then we find ourselves unable and unwilling to support Taylor & Francis.  Our view of the Taylor & Francis management and its suite of journals is negatively affected.

It is unfortunate that the journal will suffer as a result of your decision, as will the reputation of Taylor & Francis by the way that it arrived at it.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Wim Bakens, CIB, Netherlands

Professor Gail Brager, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Dr. Sarah Burch , University of Waterloo, Canada

Professor Edwin Chan, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Raymond J Cole, University of British Columbia, Canada

Professor Ian Cooper, Eclipse Research Consults, UK

Dr Robert Crawford, University of Melbourne, Australia

Dr Sarah Darby, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Richard de Dear, University of Sydney, Australia

Dr Michael Donn, Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand

Dr Chrisna du Plessis, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Professor Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University, Denmark

Dr Jessica Granderson, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, USA

Professor Guillaume Habert, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Dr Kathryn Janda, University College London, UK

Professor Charles Kibert, University of Florida, USA

Professor Niklaus Kohler, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Mr Adrian Leaman, Usable Buildings Trust, UK

Dr Mark D Levine, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, USA

Professor Kevin Lomas, Loughborough University, UK

Professor Robert Lowe, University College London, UK

Professor Thomas Lützkendorf, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Dr Tove Malmqvist, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Professor Daniel Mueller, NTNU, Norway

Professor Shuzo Murakami, Institute for Building Environment and Energy Conservation, Japan

Mr Robin Nicholson CBE, Cullinan Studio, UK

Dr Sarah Outcault, University of California, Davis, USA

Dr Wei Pan, University of Hong Kong, China

Dr Sofie Pelsmakers, Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark

Professor Bruno Peuportier, Mines ParisTech, France

Professor Gary Pivo, University of Arizona, USA

Mr Rajan Rawal, CEPT University, India

Professor Christoph Reinhart, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Professor John Robinson, University of Toronto, Canada

Dr Serge Salat, Urban Morphology Institute, France

Professor Kaixun Sha, Shandong Jianzhu University, China

Professor Geoffrey Qiping Shen, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Alan Short, University of Cambridge, UK

Professor  Elizabeth Shove, University of Lancaster, UK

Professor  Stefan Siedentop, Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development (ILS), Germany

Professor Philip Steadman, University College London, UK

Professor Fionn Stevenson, University of Sheffield, UK

Dr Yolande Strengers, RMIT University, Australia

Professor Henk Visscher, Technical University Delft, The Netherlands

Dr Faye Wade, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Professor Jennifer Whyte, Imperial College London, UK

Professor Harold Wilhite, University of Oslo, Norway

Professor Yi Jiang, Tsinghua University, China

An integrated framework of home comfort

Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs introduces her forthcoming BRI paper: ‘Integrated framework of home comfort: relaxation, companionship and control’, co-authored with Louise Reid and Colin J. Hunter.

Home comfort is a common term, often associated with cuddling family, smells of familiar meals, and having a place to call your own. In building research and policy, the meaning of home comfort is undoubtedly essential to questions of health (e.g. ensuring physical and mental wellbeing are afforded by an individuals’ housing situation), social equality (e.g. determining what constitutes a minimum standard of living), and sustainability (e.g. resources consumed to fulfil visions of the desirable home life). Nonetheless, most investigation of occupant satisfaction assumes comfort to be purely physical and to mean thermal comfort, missing much broader social, psychological and sensory desires of home.

In the past decade, Building Research and Information has been an excellent platform for discussion of the meaning of comfort in buildings, including four special issues on the topic (‘Comfort in a Lower Carbon Society’ (2008); ‘Adaptive Comfort in an Unpredictable World’ (2013); ‘Counting the Costs of Comfort’ (2015); and ‘Rethinking Thermal Comfort’ (2017)). Indeed, numerous studies, including some in this journal, have demonstrated the symbolic, psychological and sociological aspects of thermal comfort, and suggested that there is more to the evolution of homes than the pursuit of thermal comfort. This new paper advances these debates by bringing together home and housing scholarship to conceptualise the findings of a qualitative study exploring householders’ understanding of home comfort.

The paper reviews existing literature on comfort and home to inform the development of a broad framework of home comfort. The literature on comfort is largely dominated by engineering and building scientists framing comfort in a purely physical way. Consequently, we also explore common findings from studies explicitly on home comfort as well as wider literature on home and homemaking. Combined with the results of an empirical study with 45 Scottish householders, in which twelve co-existing meanings of home comfort were commonly identified, we argue that home comfort is relaxation and wellbeing that results from companionship and control to manage the home as desired.

Shifting attention onto the desire for relaxation, companionship and control in the home moves beyond commonly imagined interventions to ensure housing quality related to temperature, air quality, noise levels, lighting, and energy efficiency. Subsequently, this re-conceptualisation of comfort has important implications for

  • Health – encouraging opportunities for personalisation, often constrained in rental and transitory housing may also be an opportunity for improving occupant’s wellbeing that goes beyond ensuring they are sufficiently warm.
  • Social equality – increases in new housing stock are undermined by increasing numbers of households, which is not simply due to an increase in population. Researchers and policy makers could design interventions that target systemic changes in society affecting access to housing, such as how best to design and for, and market the benefits of, co-habiting (e.g. soundproofing may improve home comfort as much or more than increasing the size of a home).
  • Sustainability and climate change – trends in house and household sizes are significant determinants of energy demand per capita and are related to changes in family structures and globalisation, which influence shared expectations of the space per person ‘needed’ to facilitate comfortably sharing the home with others.

Last year ‘coincided with a fascination, bordering on obsession, with the Danish concept of hygge’, a term often translated to ‘cosiness’ in English and generally associated with the home. There is much to be gained by embracing a wider definition and understanding of what constitutes comfort. It is time for building researchers and policymakers to include these emotional, social and cultural expectations that are significant to individuals’ wellbeing and experience of housing.

 

KEK 2017 photo[2]Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs is a Lecturer in Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews. She has written about domestic energy and living with microgeneration technologies; investigating how lifestyle expectations influence, and are influenced, by the physical features of the home. Her work aims to bring the wealth of home scholarship to energy and building studies, see for instance ‘Home-ing in on domestic energy research: ‘house’, ‘home’ and the importance of ontology’ with Louise Reid and Colin Hunter.

ORCID number: 0000-0003-3098-1498

Response: Writing the wrongs of energy efficiency

A response to Jan Rosenow and Tina Fawcett’s Commentary: ‘What is right with energy efficiency?’

Elizabeth Shove, December 2017

In writing about what’s wrong with energy efficiency my aim was to bring a body of established social theoretical ideas to bear on a concept that has taken hold – and become taken for granted – in energy research and policy.  I wanted to do this in order to provoke considered reflection on the conceptual foundations of the very idea of energy efficiency.

This is an unusual undertaking and misunderstandings are to be expected.  Some are a product of the very issue that I seek to address:  that is the extent to which certain lines of thought have become so institutionalised and so ‘normal’ that there is no space left for critical reflection. Other potential hiccups relate to the fact that I am approaching the topic as a social scientist – and what’s worse, as one interested in the philosophy of knowledge, and in the performativity of discourses, ideas and practices.  This is not at all the same position as that occupied by readers who are in the business of ‘doing efficiency’, or energy policy, or who have no background in the ideas on which I draw.

That is not a problem. It is my job, in writing the article, to convey enough of these intellectual traditions to enable people immersed in the field of ‘energy efficiency’ to see what they are caught up in.  There are some signs that my article has had this effect.  For instance, Gerrit Jan Schaeffer, Director of Dutch Solar Energy thanks me for taking the effort to think through the concept of energy efficiency ‘in a thoroughly intellectual way’ (a tweet on 6th September 2017). Others  have acknowledged the importance of articulating some of the social, historical and political assumptions that are embedded in ‘efficiency’ as it is mobilised in contemporary policy. But for Jan Rosenow, for Tina Fawcett, and quite likely for other readers too, I have evidently not got through.  I am not about to repeat my entire argument (so please read this response alongside the original article), but their  reaction is a useful diagnostic tool, signalling what I take to be four main ‘error messages’.  In responding to these alerts my aim is to counter readings of the article that remain rooted within the ‘efficiency paradigm’.

Error message 1. The article is about whether energy efficiency ‘works’ in its own terms or not. 

In their response, Rosenow and Fawcett include a graph that they use to demonstrate the value of energy efficiency. There are, of course, many other such graphs that show the same.  My question is not whether the figures on which these graphs depend are right or wrong.  Instead, and as my extensive discussion of the ‘purifying’ work involved shows,  my aim is to  highlight the taken-for-granted assumptions and the work on which all such data is based.  Presenting evidence that demonstrates the benefits of energy efficiency, in its own terms, is in no way a counter claim, or a rebuttal of my position.  If anything it serves to illustrate just how deeply embedded and how uncritical efficiency discourses have become.

Error message 2. The discussion is about whether efficiency measures, and other energy policies, can combine to combat climate change. 

Quite early on in the article I make reference to some of those who claim that an effective response to climate change – including meeting future targets – is not only about finding more efficient ways of meeting present ‘needs’: as Obama said in 2016, ‘more will be needed’. In the UK, the Committee on Climate Change is also not sure how future targets will be met without the government applying ‘more challenging measures’, perhaps calling present standards of living into question. Rosenow and Fawcett want  ‘evidence’ that efficiency measures (alongside other technical fixes) might not be up to the task ahead.  In reality it is impossible to know how future ‘demands’ might evolve and what new ways people might be using energy in two or ten or a thousand years’ time.  Accordingly there can never be ‘evidence’ to show that efficiency will be enough, or to show the reverse either.

This is not where the argument lies. Instead, and as I sought to explain, the much more important point is to recognise that societal needs and demands are not given: they are negotiable, dynamic, and in part constituted by technologies and policies, including those of efficiency.  In this more metaphorical sense, efficiency arguments are not enough because they disguise and do not engage with the ways in which present and future demands are made, or that efficiency measures are themselves a crucial part of this process.  In other words, the potential to respond to climate change depends on what energy is used for and how societal ‘needs’ evolve. My case is that the pursuit of energy efficiency has many unintended consequences, within and as part of this story.

Error message 3. There are societally or universally agreed needs and demands and energy efficient systems and technologies help meet these needs with fewer resources.

I completely agree that efficiency measures  help meet pre-specified needs with fewer resources.  But in taking ‘needed’ services for granted such measures also ‘fix’ historically and culturally specific interpretations of comfort, light, travel, etc.  For a time, and for certain groups of people, these interpretations constitute ‘real’ needs.  But as most historians would explain, these are not universal,  nor are they always agreed.  The error is to suppose that there are societally or universally agreed needs.  In response, my article is designed to help proponents and defenders of efficiency discourses see just how much political and cultural baggage is attached to the seemingly neutral concepts with which they work.

Error message 4. In being critical of efficiency discourses I am at risk of raising politically awkward questions and inadvertently lending support to those in favour of boosting energy supply.

In the article I imply that discourses of efficiency are politically convenient because they disguise their own highly political role in sustaining specific interpretations of need and service.  On this point  I do want to rock the boat.   One reason for writing the article was to draw attention to just these hidden features.  I think this is important in that identifying what I call ‘good’ forms of efficiency depends on carefully articulating the meanings of ‘need’ and service that they sustain.  And as I argue, concepts of purification and entanglement help in this endeavour.   In my view, engaging with what is wrong with discourses of efficiency is a necessary step in working towards a more considered response to climate change: it is not a sign of weakness.  Far from it. Being critical of the intellectual foundations of policy discourses of efficiency – or for that matter of other related concepts like the energy ‘trilemma’ – is part of a necessary process of conceptualising and interrogating the dark sides of conventional wisdom.

To reiterate, the article is not about  whether efficiency should get more attention in policy spheres than additional supply.  The question is what commitments and assumptions do discourses of efficiency entail, and what perverse, unwitting and unintended effects might these have?  In particular, how do references to efficiency reproduce specific interpretations of ‘service’?

Rosenow and Fawcett’s discussion of ‘what’s right with energy efficiency’ represents a simple defence of the ambition of energy efficiency and because it remains at this level it does not offer a theoretically informed critique of ‘what’s wrong with energy efficiency’.  This is a shame in that there is plenty of scope for taking issue with various features of the argument that I make.   For example, a more interesting charge, and one that political scientists might reasonably make, is that I am myself beguiled by the dominant discourse of energy efficiency and have made the mistake of taking it at face value.  In other words, I fail to reference some pretty basic ideas about the rhetoric of policy making and politics and fail to recognise that concepts of efficiency are significant not in their own right but as a symptom of much bigger and deeper political and economic battles.

Another credible challenge is that I confuse or at least conflate ‘real’ forms of efficiency (based in physics and engineering) with the very much fuzzier versions that abound in policy documents.  For example, some purist engineers agree with aspects of my position, feeling that the notion of ‘efficiency’ has been repeatedly hijacked and misused in policy circles in which it is taken to be a generalised ambition, not a context specific measure of input and output.  My mistake is to treat ‘efficiency’ discourses as one.

Third, and for those who know the literature, my attempt to apply and work with notions of purification and entanglement skates over some rather important differences between Hodder and Latour. Similarly, I do not really engage with Hodder’s ideas about the path-dependence and directionality of entanglement.  This is quite significant, especially when dealing with long term issues like those of climate change.

Others might reasonably take me to task over the somewhat slippery solution of distinguishing between good and bad forms of efficiency, and they might press me on how notions of ‘good’ efficiency do or do not relate to debates about need and sufficiency.

I’ll resist the temptation to respond to these self-set challenges.  The point is not to resolve these questions now, but to show that there are important debates still to be had about the theoretical foundations of efficiency policy, and what these mean for  how questions of energy are measured, managed, understood and known. Sliding these topics under the carpet, insisting that efficiency ‘works’, and contending that it is politically important to defend efficiency programmes come what may is not a long term solution.

Further reading: Not everyone will be interested in  thinking about energy efficiency in these terms, but for those who are curious about how  scientific ideas and policy discourses  ‘work’ I’d suggest a few key readings.  One is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn, first published in 1962.  Another would be Don Mackenzie’s excellent book ‘Inventing accuracy’ (1990, MIT Press). Mackenzie writes about nuclear missiles but many of the ideas he explores apply as well to energy efficiency. A third suggestion would be to read more of Latour.  The book to which I refer in the article, Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, (1993, Havard University Press) is not an easy starting point, but some of Latour’s earlier work, like Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts, with Steve Woolgar (1979, Sage) would be a good place to begin.

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Elizabeth Shove is Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University and PI of the DEMAND research centre (Dynamics of energy, mobility and demand). She is known for her work on social practice theory, including The Dynamics of Social Practice (Sage 2012) with Mika Pantzar and Matt Watson, and more recently, Nexus of Practices (Routledge 2017) edited with Allison Hui and Theodore Schatzki.  She has also written about different aspects of energy and demand in everyday life.

ORCID number: 0000-0002-4792-5479

Policy instruments: designing an ‘optimal’ retrofit programme

Aaron Gillich provides an introduction to a recent paper co-authored with Minna Sunikka-Blank & Andy Ford in BRI.

The UK has long struggled to drive thermal retrofits in the able-to-pay sector.  Housing accounts for nearly a quarter of UK carbon emissions, and nearly every 2050 low carbon heat scenario used by policy makers is counting on a step change in energy efficiency in the existing stock.  In “Designing an ‘Optimal’ Retrofit Programme” we have argued that the core problem is failing to tackle this issue in a comprehensive way.  Instead the UK have largely relied on piecemeal solutions like financing (Green Deal), and failed to build on promising pilots such as described in the “Low Carbon Communities Challenge: Evaluation Report”.  These are effective ingredients, but not a complete foundation upon which to build a long term market as most policies seek to do.  More despairingly, the fact that these ingredients were not a panacea on their own has created an impression among many that: “well we tried that and it didn’t work.”  The UK’s effort at thermal retrofit is a story of half-measures and false starts.  Although many of the UK’s past efforts have been on the right track, they have suffered as partial solutions that weren’t seen through.

Insights from the Each Home Counts (Bonfield) review and bold ambitions of the Clean Growth Strategy suggest that the UK is determined to make progress with  this deeply rooted problem.  Could the UK finally be ready to move beyond half-measures and deliver a comprehensive policy package that transforms thermal retrofit into a market that can stand on its own?  Scotland is already underway with the Scottish Energy Efficiency Programme. For this and other UK efforts it would be wise to learn from recent retrofit market transformation examples in the United States.

The US Better Buildings Neighborhood Program (BBNP) was created in 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis.  The US Department of Energy gave a half billion dollars to state and local programs to transform retrofit markets in a way that best suited their communities.  This resulted in 41 different versions of thermal retrofit programs with a common goal: delivering a lasting market change rather than a temporary stimulus.  This created a natural experiment in retrofit program design.   The BBNP was successful against nearly every stated objective including upgrading over 100,000 residential and commercial properties, creating over 10,000 jobs, delivering savings of at least 15% in energy costs per home upgraded, and leveraging 3:1 in outside investment for every program dollar spent.  Perhaps most critically, 84% of grantees continued program elements in the post funding period.  The BBNP is widely regarded as a best practice example of turning national level policies into local action.

A key finding of the BBNP was that to stimulate markets the program must create both a supply push and a demand pull simultaneously.  Delivering this required active strategies across five themes:

1) Program design: to identify local market features and suitable program structures.

2) Marketing and outreach: separates the processes of creating awareness versus personal engagement and Community Based Social Marketing in driving demand.

3) Workforce engagement: this emphasised the need for the program to create drivers in addressing skills gaps across the supply chain.

4) Financial incentives: consider the relative merits of grants versus loans and how to effectively use them in combination.

5) Data and Evaluation: presents techniques for effective program evaluation that enables iterative program adjustments.

Based on the experiences and feedback from the people who delivered the BBNP programmes on what constitutes best practice, a template was created for an ‘optimal’ programme model for retrofit programmes with stated objectives similar to the US BBNP.   Borrowing lessons from programmes like the BBNP means that the UK  can develop a more robust retrofit policy that is based on evidence of what works and avoid reinventing the wheel.

Header image credit: Orangezorki, Getty Images

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Dr Aaron Gillich currently works as a Senior Lecturer in the School of the Built Environment and Architecture at London South Bank University. His professional interests cover a wide range of energy and sustainability issues, primarily focusing on the energy trilemma

of delivering a low cost, low carbon, secure energy system.  His PhD work studied domestic retrofit program design and how programs could be delivered at key market intervention points to create a lasting impact.  His current research includes the Balanced Energy Network (BEN) demonstration project at LSBU.  BEN is a prototype heat network that balances the delivery of heating, cooling and electricity using a demand side response control system and distributed storage.

ORCiD: 0000-0002-4132-4824