Of chalk and cheese: behaviour change and practice theory in sustainable design

L. Kuijer, C. Bakker

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37 Citations (Scopus)
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Design for sustainable behaviour (DfSB) is becoming increasingly influential in the areas of design research and practice. With its success, however, concerns are also rising about its limitations. This paper bundles these concerns and illustrates how DfSB approaches tend to focus on incremental savings that easily disappear in larger trends, how it risks not achieving the intended behaviour change, how its literature contains a strong rhetoric of right and wrong behaviours and how opportunities for larger scales of change tend to be missed. These concerns are illustrated using examples from the DfSB literature concerning refrigerators, electric kettles, televisions and showers. Going deeper into these limitations, the paper argues that the assumptions underlying DfSB approaches may not be the most appropriate basis for approaching the complex issue of sustainable consumption. Building on a growing number of publications in environmental policy and sustainable design, the paper then moves to explain practice theory as an alternative paradigm and argues that it shows potential to aid designers to envision change beyond the status quo and to achieve a higher effectiveness with designed interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-230
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainable Engineering
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • design for sustainable behaviour
  • household energy consumption
  • practice-oriented design
  • social practice theory


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