Investigating and Quantifying Household-level Food (F) – Energy (E) – Water (W) Footprints

Households represent a fundamental nexus of FEW systems interlinkages. Household consumption choices (activities that physically occur in homes as well as decisions made by individuals in household contexts that occur outside the home, e.g., dining out) drive demand for products, and hence, all resources used to create and deliver those products.

Study 1. Existing measurement frameworks provide a limited picture of the impacts of consumer demand on FEW resources. Specifically, current “footprint” models tend to focus on production rather than consumption choices and/or use narrow system boundaries; fail to account for nuances in decision-making such as specific food choices that can substantially impact resource use; and omit embedded water/energy externalities (e.g., energy and water required to produce, transport, and prepare products; energy required to move water; water required for cooling in power generation). Hence, they likely underestimate actual consumption, leaving open questions about the true impact of household decision-making on FEW systems. As a result, there is an urgent need to develop a more inclusive household FEWprint framework to (1) accurately quantify household resource consumption and (2) understand drivers of FEW consumption such that (3) policy interventions can be developed and prioritized.

Study 2. A refined FEWprint framework can be used to provide individuals with feedback on their consumption. Given increases in sensing technology, digitization, and investment in updating utility infrastructure to smart grids, feedback will likely continue to proliferate in society, highlighting a need to understand the psychological processes by which feedback translates to action. Existing research on anticipated emotions focuses on eliciting emotional states through articles, stories, and hypothetical scenarios, falls short of investigating experienced emotions arising from personal actions. This study seeks to (1) advance current understanding of how experienced emotions due to personal action influence pro-environmental behavior; and (2) using attribution theory as a framework, shed more light on how pride and guilt influence pro-environmental behavior.

Methods: In Study 1, food, utility, and transportation data were collected from Columbus-area households to use in the creation of an integrative FEWprint framework. In Study 2, an online experiment was conducted to investigate how people respond to feedback on their carbon footprints.

Study phase: Data collection complete; manuscripts in development

Collaborators: Bhavik Bakshi’s Process Systems Engineering Group (OSU CBE), Brian Roe (OSU AEDE), Robyn Wilson (OSU SENR), Kelly Sanders (USC Viterbi School of Engineering), Detlof von Winterfeldt (USC Price School of Public Policy/Viterbi), Dan Mazmanian (USC Price)

Funding acknowledgement: This project is funded by the OSU Sustainable and Resilient Economy Discovery Theme and OSU Decision Sciences Collaborative.

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