1/5 – Sobriety – A change of culture at all levels

Three of the four Ademe scenarios propose to activate
– with more or less force – the lever of sobriety, which shakes our economic and social model. This requires the action of actors at different levels and sectors of activity, while ensuring inequalities.

“We have three main levers to reduce our impact on the climate: sobriety (questioning our needs), energy efficiency (producing using less energy) and the use of clean energy. However, these last two levers are limited by their physical potential and continue to be conditioned by technological progress”, wrote Fabrice Boissier, deputy general manager of Ademe, in an article in The Conversation published in November 2021. For the Ecological Transition Agency , “in a context where natural resources are limited, sobriety consists of questioning ourselves about our needs and satisfying them by limiting their impact on the environment.” A process that “should lead us to change our methods of production and consumption, and more generally our lifestyles, individually and collectively”.

83% of French people would like to live in a society where consumption takes up less space. © jgp

However, be careful to differentiate between sobriety and efficiency, warns Marianne Bloquel, project manager in the responsible consumption department of Ademe’s circular economy and waste department. “Efficiency policies are well known and implemented,” she notes. However, they optimize what already exists by allowing less consumption” thanks to LED lighting or the energy renovation of a home, for example. Sobriety “corresponds to a reduction in ultimate demand,” she argues.

This principle is one of the “key messages” of the Ademe scenarios: “the reduction of energy demand, in turn linked to the demand for goods and services, is the key factor in achieving carbon neutrality”. This reduction ranges between 23 and 55% compared to 2015 depending on the scenarios. The first two options, on the other hand, are based on the sobriety of use (routes on foot or by bicycle, privileged local businesses, etc.), dimensional (reducing the weight of vehicles) and cooperative (rather collective housing, rental of equipment instead of buying). The fourth scenario is “the only one that relinquishes this lever”, which leads “to a hasty race that seems risky”, estimates the institution.

“Acting on systemic aspects of society”

But if “relying on sobriety should be easier than developing new technological solutions, since most of the time it is based on common sense and does not require complicated developments”, “the brakes are still numerous”, believes Fabrice Boissier. Because of our “contemporary economic model [qui] remains based on the incentive to consume”, “transforming our social representations, fueled by advertising and social networks, implies acting on systemic aspects of society”, he adds. The agency’s 2021 barometer reveals that 88% of French people believe that we live in a society that pushes us to constantly buy. However, 74% of them consider buying products they don’t need to be a form of waste. But how far is it possible to go in this direction? “Sobriety clashes with the dominant way of thinking of the consumerist culture of the modern world, writes Ademe. It is often perceived as a deprivation and is divisive: what seems to be a deprivation for one generation or a certain individual may, on the contrary, seem obvious for another. »

The Recyclerie de Paris offers its members a DIY workshop. © The Recycler

Hence the importance of communicating about models of “living happily differently” that can lead citizens to question their daily consumption. “It is important to be able to show that adapting your purchases to your needs does not mean being dissatisfied”, says Marianne Bloquel. The “Bisou” method, for example, allows you to question your needs by asking questions about the utility or the origin of the purchase. To encourage people to change, the Cler energy transition network coordinates the Déclics program, which proposes challenges to reduce energy bills and waste, alone or in teams, to discover other ways of consuming, eating or moving.

Communities and companies mobilized

But to act, citizens also need an offer that meets their aspirations. How, in fact, to travel by bicycle without a bike lane? Or how to consume responsibly if companies do not produce in this logic? Local authorities are beginning to carry out awareness campaigns on this issue. They can also promote the rise of another culture, with, for example, the creation of “coffee repairs” to extend the life of objects and create social bonds, a “co-benefit” of this type of approach. Public actors have many levers in this area through public policies related to food, urban expansion or mobility. In terms of circular economy, the city of Amsterdam has used the “doughnut” theory, which makes it possible to determine a space between personal needs and climatic requirements.

At the economic level, the Ademe supports the development of the functional and cooperative economy that is causing “the emergence of new economic models”, as well as the social and solidarity economy, highlights Marianne Bloquel, who recalls that the ecological transition work they are “local and cannot be relocated”. Some companies have also made the fight against waste their niche, particularly in the textile sector.

find compromises

Therefore, the implementation of sobriety requires multiple responses and at different scales. “The challenge of collective sobriety is to offer desirable options and distribute the effort equitably between companies and consumers, urban and rural, young and old…”, says Fabrice Boissier. Taking care not to widen inequalities, “the reduction of consumption for the most modest part of the population cannot be foreseen,” the institution points out. Hence the need, for its Deputy CEO, to “discuss it calmly, to find compromises, taking care above all not to weigh down the effort of sobriety on populations that are already struggling to satisfy their needs”.

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