Local environmental governance: Assessing proactive initiatives in building energy efficiency

University dissertation from Lund University

Abstract: Local governments are increasingly taking the initiative in environmental governance. But can they make any difference in addressing current environmental challenges, which are becoming more and more global in scope? This PhD thesis explores and analyses the outcomes of proactive initiatives in the field of building energy efficiency, and the governance approaches taken. It addresses outcomes both in the socio-technical system that constitutes the building, and in the institutional sphere. The overarching objective is to contribute to knowledge on the role of local initiatives in addressing current environmental challenges.

The thesis focuses on a number of governance initiatives in the form of policies or strategic approaches in urban development projects in Sweden, and one in Denmark. The primary focus has been on proactive initiatives for enhancing the energy efficiency of new buildings. Through a case study approach, the research is based on a combination of methods for data collection, including document studies, interviews and participant observation to analyse the governance approaches in local governance initiatives and the different types of outcomes.

A key finding is that the local governance initiatives investigated have played a role in environmental governance through outcomes across socio-technical systems and institutional spheres. The combination of different modes of governing, including authoritative and enabling modes of governing as well as governing by provision, was important for fostering the construction of more energy efficient buildings. Another important element in these governing processes was the active governing throughout the development process. In terms of institutional change, it was shown that relation-building and knowledge advancement were fostered successfully, while it was more difficult to actually mobilise for change. The research also showed how local initiatives are shaped by institutions at higher tiers of government and that the local initiatives also contributed to shaping institutions at the national level. Based on this, the thesis argues for national policy frameworks, which better capture the benefits of local frontrunners.