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Two centuries of heating our homes. An empirical – historical contribution to the problem of sustainability on a micro level

Two centuries of heating our homes. An empirical – historical contribution to the problem of... Discussions about sustainability are often restricted to statements about energy. However, when the notion was first used, it had a broader meaning. It argued that every generation should strive for economic progress, yet this should affect all generations in a positive way. This interpretation was evolved by the Brundtland commission in 1987. Since the publication of its report ‘Our common future’, it is widely accepted that sustainable development involves a social, economic and environmental dimension. Since there is no unambiguous definition of ‘sustainable development’ on hand, a set of sustainability indicators was developed. However, these indicators are not very instructive about the micro level: can we label a particular commodity ‘sustainable’ or does this have only relatively limited value? To what extent is mankind capable of producing, distributing and consuming in a ‘pure’, efficient and cheap way? To create a long-term view on ‘sustainable development’, important lessons could be learned from the past. ‘Sustainability’ has little meaning without an understanding of long-term ecosystem trajectories and a knowledge of baseline conditions, if they ever existed. The interdisciplinary research project ‘(Un)sustainability developments of product systems, 1800 – 2000’ investigates the (un)sustainability development of four basic needs (potable water, bread, transportation of people over land, and heated living space) in Belgium over the last two centuries, to gain insight into sustainable development on a micro level. This paper focuses on the case study of the heated living space. It explores the boundaries of the research subject, before examining sources and methodology. The project employs Life Cycle Assessment techniques on historical data, which is a first in historical research in Belgium. After studying the social, economic and environmental indicators, the results are combined. This leads to several (cautious) conclusions about sustainability on a micro level. Keywords: Social and economic history, socio-ecological history, sustainability, Life Cycle Assessment, micro level 1. Introduction January 2003. In a contribution in ‘Nature’, scientists of the universities of Michigan and Stanford suggest that singles should go back and live with their parents in order to save the Correspondence: Danie ¨ lle De Vooght, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, HIST, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Tel: 32 2 629 1277. E-mail: danielle.devooght@vub.ac.be ISSN 1569-3430 print/ISSN 1744-4225 online  2006 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/15693430600578446 40 D. De Vooght et al. earth . . . (Keilman 2003). The negative impact of global population growth on biodiversity is amplified by the increasing number of households, which implies an even higher demand for natural resources and a heavier load on biodiversity. Nearly every household in the West owns a refrigerator and heats its house, whether the household consists of one, two or more people. A century ago, people did not have a refrigerator, they lived in smaller houses and they tended to dwell with more people in one house. Two centuries ago, for example, the average number of people per household in Belgium was 5 as opposed to 2.38 in the year 2000. Can we subsequently state that households in the past used their resources more efficiently, or in any case, with much more thrift? This question addresses the discussions about sustainability. These debates are often restricted to statements about energy use and energy efficiency (Van Zon 2002). However, when the notion was first used in Germany within the scope of finding a solution for deforestation in the eighteenth century, it had a much broader meaning. It was argued that every generation should strive for economic progress that, however, should affect both their own generation and future generations in a positive way. Therefore, people should respect nature (Van Zon 2002). This interpretation was reused and developed by the Brundtland commission in 1987 (World Commission on Environment and Development—WCED 1987). Its report ‘Our common future’ contains one of the most cited definitions of sustainability: ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. ...First .. .the elimination of poverty and deprivation. Second . . . the conservation and enhancement of the resource base which alone can ensure that the elimination of poverty is permanent. Third . . . not only economic growth but also social and cultural development. Fourth, and most important, ...the unification of economics and ecology in decision making at all levels’. Meanwhile, it is widely accepted that sustainable development involves the combination of a social, economic and environmental dimension. 2. An empirical – historical contribution to the problem 2.1. Problem definition and research questions Since there is no unambiguous definition of ‘sustainable development’ on hand, a set of ‘sustainability indicators’ was developed on different levels of policy (UN, OECD, federal and regional governments) in order to monitor and get a grip on this process. These indicators explore aspects such as carbon dioxide emissions, unemployment rates, education levels and inflation. The purpose of these indicators is to outline the ‘degree of sustainability’ societies have (or have not yet) attained. The aforementioned indicators regard the macro level but are not very informative when considering the micro level (companies, products, consumers and their behaviour). Can our society produce, distribute, and consume in a ‘clean’, efficient and cheap way? A better understanding of sustainability on the micro level might lead to a higher degree of sustainability on the macro level (and therefore of society as a whole). To create a view on ‘sustainable development’, it might also be useful to cast a glance at the past: ‘No less important is the need for contemporary ecological management to include an historical dimension, especially if the goal is environmental sustainability. ‘‘Sustainability’’ has little meaning without an understanding of long-term ecosystem trajectories and a knowledge of baseline conditions, if they ever existed’ (Roberts and Butlin 1995). Bots (2002) argues that it is an historian’s duty to provide a scientific foundation for knowledge and diagnosis of the present and for prognoses. Therefore, a systematic ecological interpretation of the past is Two centuries of heating our homes 41 essential. Historians can provide relevant data, insights and sources that can help scientists who are engaged with the present and the future to explore the historical dimension of their research subject. 2.2. Objectives of the research project The interdisciplinary research project ‘(Un)sustainability developments of product systems, 1800 – 2000’ wants to gain insight into sustainable development on a micro level. What can be said about the sustainability development of product systems? Can we retrieve an efficiency improvement when looking at production processes over the past two centuries? Does the consumption level influence the efficiency of production processes? How do these elements affect the society in which they occur (on an economic, social and ecological level)? Are the economic, social and ecological dimensions interrelated? The goal of the research project is (1) to make the concept of sustainable development more concrete and well-founded on a micro level (for products) and (2) to study the relationship between sustainable production and consumption. The project investigates the (un)sustainability developments of four basic needs (drinking water, bread, transportation of people over land, and heated living space) in Belgium over the last two centuries. Both the production and the consumption phase of these four items are examined and related to one another, considering environmental, social and economic aspects. We look back in time because we want to get a better perception of the historical development of (un)sustainability within particular product systems. This can help to understand the factors that have an influence on sustainability development as a whole. In order to map the evolution over the past two centuries, six key years (1800, 1850, 1900, 1950, 1975, 2000) were chosen to represent specific stages in the development. The key years each represent a period in time that has specific characteristics (e.g. the year 1900 represents a mature industrial society). Sub-objectives of the project are: identifying dominant factors of influence that were decisive for this development; deriving relevant sustainability indicators on micro level for product systems on environmental, economic and social level, individually as well as in their mutual relationship; identifying policy elements that have influenced the historical process of (un)sustainable development; distributing and testing the research results via publications, colloquia and education. 2.3. The research approach In general, we pursued the same procedure for each of the four case studies. In order to deal with the complexity of each of the four cases, we started our research by ‘setting the borders’. This means giving a detailed definition of every case, in every key year, based on historical research. This is what we call ‘status description’. After the status description the three dimensions of sustainability were mapped. To map the (historical) environmental dimension within the four case studies the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach was used. Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a systematic tool used for assessing the environmental impacts directly or indirectly associated with a specific product, system or a service, over its full life cycle. The LCA approach was chosen since LCA examines the integral environmental load from the cradle to the grave. Other approaches are often limited to one particular environmental effect. Specified information about the input flows (energy use, use of raw materials) and output flows (emissions, waste and by-products) of the total life cycle of a product (or process, service or system) are essential to perform a detailed LCA. The LCA results in an overview of the total 42 D. De Vooght et al. environmental impacts of a product, a process, a system or a service over its complete life cycle. Since some environmental data could not be retrieved for the whole of the period, it was not possible to evaluate the ‘integral’ environmental load within each key year and each case study. However, where possible, the complete ‘life cycle’ of the four cases is investigated, and as many defining factors as possible are taken into account. So the LCA ‘approach’ seemed to be the best option for conducting our investigation, although a detailed LCA study could not be performed. As soon as the environmental parameters were collected they were combined with total Belgian fuel consumption figures. By doing so, statements could be made about the total societal environmental load related to the different product systems. To gain insight into the (historical) social and economic dimensions more ‘general’ data and indicators were collected. Some general indicators provide insight into the development of Belgian society as a whole and can help to explain the trends retrieved within each case study. The indicators are population figures, number of households, life expectancy at birth, infant mortality and purchasing power. The choice of indicators is based on existing research in social and economic history. It is possible to compare these indicators over the past two centuries, since they remain indicative for the social and economic development over the whole of the period. Moreover, they are selected because of the possible reciprocity with the retrieved trends within each case study. For example, the expansion of the water supply system contributed to the rise in life expectancy at birth and the decrease in infant mortality at the turn of the century, while the population growth (among others) started off the search for a better water supply system. Other indicators could have been used as well (e.g. illiteracy, child labour), but it is not our goal to be complete in this respect. The same reasoning explains the choice of case-specific indicators. Since it is impossible to cover every aspect of a product system, we selected some relevant social and economic indicators. The indicators had to be comparable over the years and for the four product systems. The percentage of the population with access to the product, the consumption figures and the increase in infrastructure show the evolution in product availability. Was the product a luxury product at a certain moment in time, only affordable for the well-to-do classes? Did this change (why and when)? The real price of the product (nominal price divided by an average day wage) represents the days of labour needed to be able to purchase a good. Real prices make it possible to compare ‘prices’ over time, since the influence of inflation and other economic variables is ruled out. Finally, the percentage of the budget spent on the purchase of the various products gives an indication on the (changing) importance of these products in the private expenditure. By combining environmental, social and economic indicators we attempted to assess the three-dimensional sustainability development for the four product systems in Belgium, now and in the past two centuries. In this paper we focus on the case study of the heated living space. 3. Heating our living space: a case study about ‘sustainability’ over the past two centuries 3.1. Status description When examining the ‘sustainability development’ of the heating of the living space, one has to bear in mind two components: the volume of the living space that is heated and the heating system (including fuel type). In addition, building materials and modes of construction are important, since insulation of walls and windows has an influence on the amount of energy Two centuries of heating our homes 43 used to heat the building. However, given that the research subject is the heating of a single-family dwelling, the production of building materials itself will not be taken into consideration. The same restriction applies to the production of heating systems and the fuel production, because of the negligible significance when heating one cubic metre of a house. However, in the environmental part of the study the emissions and waste related to the heating of houses, are counted for. Figure 1 shows the system boundaries of this study (the three boxes on the right are not included in our system). While analysing the heating of a single-family dwelling, one should consider a representative mix of housing facilities, heating systems and energy sources, since not every family lives in a dwelling that was built in the year that is studied and not every family immediately acquires a new kind of heating system or energy source. This is the adequate way to compose a legitimate picture of the research subject. A major subject for debate at the onset of the research project was this issue of representativeness. After all, the project aims to pose a statement about Belgium and ‘the average Belgian citizen’. Obviously, this ‘average Belgian citizen’ does (and did) not exist, and we decided to take into consideration the ‘most common’ types of dwellings. We needed to determine the (heated) volume of the average living accommodation and the heating system and energy sources that were used to warm this house (or room). Table I combines our findings in the so-called status description (NIS 1947 – 1991; Vriend, 1960; Busseniers 1978; Scholliers and Avondts 1981; De Clippel, 1992; De Bont 1995; Noorman and Schoot Uiterkamp 1998; Stokroos 2001; Van Overbeeke 2001). Table I shows a strong increase in volume heated per dwelling and the main changes in applied heating systems and fuels during the last 200 years. Obviously, the distinction between city dwellings and countryside dwellings, or rather (when assessing energy use) between open-space development and closed development, also has to be kept in mind, as enclosed housing will require less energy for heating. The period of time a dwelling is heated, the average outside temperature, and the average comfort temperature might all have an influence on the environmental impact of the heating of the living space. Population figures and the average number of people per household provide an indication of the number of households. Prices of goods and the part of the household budget spent on purchasing that good might explain certain trends in consumption behaviour, as might the urbanization level. Figure 1. System boundaries. 44 D. De Vooght et al. Table I. Status description . Volume of Use of insulating (heated) Walls Windows materials living space (m ) Heating system Fuels 1800 Clay or brick Single glazing, No 54 Open fire Wood (1 stone) wooden frames Stove Coal 1850 Clay or brick Single glazing, No 56 Stove Coal (1 stone) wooden frames Wood 1900 Brick Single glazing, No 45 Stove Coal (1 stone) wooden frames Wood 1950 Brick Single glazing, No 147 Stove Coal (1 stone) wooden frames Radiators Fuel oil 1975 Hollow wall Introduction of Limited use 205 Radiators Coal double glazing, Stove Fuel oil steel or aluminium Gas frames 2000 Hollow wall Double glazing, Yes 260 Radiators Gas aluminium frames Fuel oil Electricity 3.2. Sources and data collection A wide range of sources was examined to retrieve data to map and access the environmental, social and economic parameters. A distinction was made between environmental data and social and economic data. 3.2.1. Search for (historical) environmental parameters. Extended research of literature, statistics, archives and museums, and interviews contributed to the identification of the environmental parameters. We conducted a literature search with reference to living conditions over the past two centuries in order to gain a perception of the volume of the (heated) living space and of used building materials. Technical literature covering heating systems provided some details about energy sources and energy use. Housing statistics and housing censuses completed the information about the volume, while statistics concerning equipment of houses and household budget inquiries helped outlining an evolution of heating systems. However, statistics often deal with general information, concerning the whole of the kingdom over a year, while literature frequently tackles a more limited subject, area or social group (particularly working-class dwellings). One has to keep this in mind while further analysing and interpreting the data. Proceeding from the findings in literature and combining these with the expertise of historians and an architectural engineer we decided upon a ‘most common’ dwelling and heating system for 1800, 1850 and 1900. To map the environmental parameters we even appealed on own emissions measurements carried out in some of the houses in the open-air museum of Bokrijk (Geerken et al. 2003). 3.2.2. Search for (historical) social and economic parameters. We started by reading ‘classical’ works concerning social and economic history. This way the long-term evolution became clearer. Demographic studies were examined for their general indicators: population and life expectancy. Consumption prices of the different products (in the twentieth century) were provided by the Belgian Ministry of Economic Affairs. Research by Scholliers and Avondts (1981) and Segers (2002) complemented these figures with the specific prices for the Two centuries of heating our homes 45 nineteenth century. These nominal prices were combined with the ‘average daily wage’, as suggested by Vandenbroeke (1988) from the sixteenth century onwards, up to 1980. This proportion (nominal price divided by an average wage) is called the real price of a product. As already mentioned, real prices represent the days of labour (i.e. the time) needed to be able to purchase a good. Using the average daily wage, the purchasing power (Vandenbroeke 1988) can also be outlined, which makes it possible to examine to what extent people’s ‘spendable income’ evolved over the past two centuries. When trying to examine the availability of the products, we looked at the percentage of the people that had access to the product. For example, how many families had central heating? These data were retrieved by combining literature and statistics. Finally, we tried to get a picture of the percentage of the budget spent on the purchase of the various products. Different kinds of sources can be examined. Since the mid-nineteenth century, budget inquiries (Jacquemyns 1949; NIS 1963; Quintens 1976; Scholliers and Avondts 1981) were carried out. These inquiries tried to point out how much of the expenditure of an ‘average’ working-class household was spent on bread, clothes, heating/lighting, rent, etc., over a period of time (one week, two weeks, one month, one year), by different families. Until the 1950s, these families were by far most working men’s families; thereafter, white-collar households and households headed by unemployed or independent workers were included. Although these family budget inquiries are based on solid research, they are not conducted in a uniform way. Methods, concepts and composition of the set of households differ for each researcher. When looking at one family for a long period or at different families for a shorter period, the results will vary (Segers and Dejongh 2000). Nonetheless, interesting findings can be retrieved from these budget inquiries: e.g., the importance of bread as a foodstuff declines in favour of expenses on meat in the twentieth century. At the same time, expenses on clothing, medical care and leisure time increased, compared with food. We will use these budget inquiries to gain a picture of the working men’s living conditions over the past two centuries and more specifically concerning the heating of his living space. Another way to retrieve the part of the budget spent on different products, is provided by the national accounts (NIS 1963, 1976a, b, Segers 2002). The first national accounts were computed in 1953. Historical constructions go back to 1850. Theoretically, these accounts contain all private consumers’ spending in Belgium. By looking at the amounts spent on heating, it was possible to calculate the percentage of the total private consumption (this is the consumption of all Belgian households) for this product. These numbers are averages for Belgium, not just working men or other social or demographic groups. For 1850 and 1900 we used figures calculated by Segers (2002), for 1950, 1975 and 2000 we used figures from the National Institute of Statistics. It was not possible to retrieve these data as early as 1800 yet. The advantage of national accounts is that they were more or less constructed in the same consistent way and they are average figures, although this can also be seen as a disadvantage, since these figures are not ‘representative’ for each ‘population group’. 3.3. Results For both the environmental part and the social and economic part, all graphs presented contain dashed lines to connect the results for each of the key years. These dashed lines do not necessarily indicate the actual development. 3.3.1. Environmental indicators. The goal of the environmental assessment over the two centuries is to compare the environmental impacts related to the heating of the living space in Belgium over the different key-years that were defined. We used the LCA approach and defined a functional 46 D. De Vooght et al. unit, a reference base of comparison of the environmental issues over the years studied. This functional unit was defined as ‘the heating of 1 m of an average single-family dwelling in Belgium, which may be considered as representative for that key year, to a comfort temperature of 188C, averaged over the seasons (per degree-day)’ (Geerken et al. 2003). Together with the expertise of historians and an architectural engineer we decided upon a ‘most common’ dwelling and heating system for 1800, 1850 and 1900. Based on these descriptions, we heated three different houses in Bokrijk, using three different heating systems, to carry out environmental measurements (see Figures 2 and 3) to be able to determine emissions and energy use, both necessary to map some of the environmental parameters based on the LCA approach. In order to make a fair LCA-based comparison, the energy consumption and emissions as measured in Bokrijk were extrapolated to a comfort temperature of 188C and to an average heating behaviour of 12 hours per day. Where coals were used, SO emissions were adapted to the higher sulphur content of coals in the past. These measurements in Bokrijk gave vital information about the emission factors (expressed as emissions per kg of fuel type) when using representative heating systems in dwellings typical for the key years. When wood is used as a fuel (mainly in the nineteenth century), the full emissions of burning are included. No credits for afforestation are given because the production of wood was not a sustainable practice. The emissions of the different fuel production processes (like wood, coal, oil, gas) are excluded in the study due to lack of data for these processes in all considered years. The emissions that are considered in the analysis are the direct emissions from the burning of the fuels. Figure 4 shows the evolution of the functional unit, more specifically the energy consumption (in MJ) that is needed for heating one cubic metre (m ) of an average Belgian Figure 2. Picture of a ‘Leuvense stoof’ used for emission measurements in Bokrijk. Two centuries of heating our homes 47 Figure 3. Emission measurements at the chimney of one of the houses in the Bokrijk museum. Figure 4. Tendency in energy consumption per m and per degree-day. single-family dwelling, per degree-day and in the key years. It is clear that over the years much less energy is required for heating one cubic metre (of a single-family dwelling to a comfort temperature of 188C, averaged over the seasons). This implies that the energy efficiency has improved substantially (more than factor 20). For 1800 we have extrapolated the measured energy use (valid for 158C) to a comfort level of 188C. Efficiency improvements can be ascribed to a combination of various factors. The conversion from open hearth (efficiency approx. 15%) to modern boilers with continuously improving boiler performances (more efficient incineration processes: around 100%) is one of these factors. Since 1988, heating systems should comply with several demands concerning energy efficiency (Pasinomie 1988). More stringent insulation measures (e.g. introduction of cavity wall and double glazing) also contribute to the improvement in efficiency. In 1975, the Belgian government grants an incentive bonus to people who improve the insulation of their 48 D. De Vooght et al. houses. It wants to encourage energy efficiency among the population (Pasinomie 1975). Urbanization implies a higher ratio of closed-space dwellings and the introduction of high-rise buildings. These types of construction suffer less heat losses. Finally, the increase in double- income couples (working outside the house) and the introduction of the thermostat result in a decrease in energy use during absence on working days. These various factors add up to an impressive efficiency improvement in 200 years, mainly due to the use of more efficient heating systems, dense city building and better insulation measures. For the environmental emissions associated with the total Belgian society, total consumption figures were available for the key years 1850 and 1900. These consumption figures were multiplied with the emissions factors for the different fuel types as measured in Bokrijk. We considered this approach more reliable than the one that would use the measured emissions of the representative heating systems and dwellings directly. In this way, the aforementioned extrapolations did not have an influence on the outcome for these years. For 1800 there is no reliable consumption data available. Therefore we used the measured data from Bokrijk as a good indication. During the measurements we could only reach a comfort level of about 158C in the farmer’s house with open fire, so we assumed that this was representative for that period. The results of this ‘applied history’ are incorporated in the analysis further on. When multiplying the aforementioned energy needs (see Figure 4) with total consumption figures of the Belgian population as a whole (based on total private expenditure figures), it appears that the efficiency improvement (Figure 4) is counterbalanced by the population growth (increased evolution) and the increased consumption (more m of the houses are heated over the years). Figure 5 shows the contribution of the total consumption (for heating houses) to the exhaust of CO emissions. Between 1800 and 1850 the impressive efficiency improvements (see Figure 4) are neutralized by an enormous population growth in Belgium (almost 4.5 million people in 1850 as opposed to almost 3 million people in 1800). Consequently, the total contribution to CO emissions during that time period remains stable. Between 1850 and 1900 efficiency improvements have the upper Figure 5. Trends in CO emissions caused by total consumption for heating in Belgium. 2 Two centuries of heating our homes 49 hand, which means that the total contribution to the exhaust of CO emissions decreases slightly. From 1900 until 1975, the efficiency improvement is counterbalanced by a more luxurious life (more cubic metres of the living space are heated) and by the decline of the average number of people per household and the population growth. Consequently, the total CO emissions increased rather spectacularly in that time period. Since 1975 there is a turn towards less CO emissions. This is caused by a synergy of different factors. More stringent insulation measures resulted in the introduction of hollow walls and the advent of the thermostat. The energy use during working days decreased because of the increase in two-income families. Households consume more electricity, due to an increase in the use of electrical appliances that emit heat. Consequently, less fuel energy is needed for heating. Finally, there has been a substantial improvement in boiler efficiency (even more than 100%). However, the rise in two-income families and use of electricity are no real savings for society as a whole, as the working place is also heated and electricity use increased over the past decades. Figure 6 shows the trend in released SO emissions related to the total consumption for heating of the living space over the past two centuries in Belgium. The trend is similar to the CO evolution over the past two decades. From circa 1975, the gradual shift from oil to natural gas results in a reduced exhaust of SO emissions. On the contrary, the reduction in NO emissions is 2 x less sharp in the same time period since natural gas contains relatively more N, which results in more NO emissions. The overall decrease of NO from circa 1975 can be ascribed to a x x combination of various factors. The use of more efficient boilers (e.g. atmospheric, condensing boilers, with low NO exhaust) is one of them. In the same time period (from around 1975) more stringent regulations have resulted in the use of a more refined oil (lower S content), so that less SO emissions are released during burning in the boiler. The trend of the other emissions studied over the past two centuries is very similar to that of the CO and SO trends. The difference between 1800 and 2000 lies, for all environmental 2 2 impact categories, in the order of factor 2. We consider this as a surprisingly small difference looking at the much higher individual consumption level, the growth in population and the more ‘individual’ way of life. Figure 6. Trends in SO emissions caused by total consumption for heating in Belgium. 2 50 D. De Vooght et al. The (first) results of the environmental assessment show an impressive efficiency improvement in 200 years. This is mainly due to the use of more efficient heating systems, dense city building and better insulation measures. The energy efficiency improvement almost totally neutralizes the dramatic increase of the population and the consumption, when considering the key years 1800 and 2000. 3.3.2. Social and economic indicators. First an outline of general indicators, like population figures and life expectancy, will be presented. Then more case-specific indicators like real prices and the percentage of the budget spent on heating will be examined more thoroughly. One also has to bear in mind the underlying social dimensions. For example, the volume of the heated living space has evolved over the past two centuries. This is imperative to know when analysing the environmental issues by using the LCA approach. It also means that people in 2000 can afford to heat a larger part of their house than their ancestors in 1850 did (see Table I). However, although purchasing power was steadily increasing towards the turn of the century, living space decreased at the end of the nineteenth century, due to higher population figures and urbanization. These are, as such, relevant underlying social and economic indicators. Belgian population figures over the past two centuries confirm the so-called ‘demographic transition’: the transition from a situation with high birth and high death rates to a situation with low birth and low death rates (Goossens 1992; NIS 1951, 1976, 2003). Because the death rates diminished faster than the birth rates, the Belgian (as well as the European) population grew dramatically since the middle of the nineteenth century and in the beginning of the twentieth century. The lower death rates can be explained by a reciprocity between the improvement of the standard of living (at the end of the nineteenth century, the Belgian government demands 16 m of living space per person, in order to guarantee public welfare. However, these measures were not immediately applied), agricultural innovations, better transportation (which makes the consequences of a bad harvest less catastrophic), the grain import from the United States at the end of the nineteenth century (although initially this created problems for the local farmers), medical innovations and improved personal hygiene, and higher wages which, for example, make it possible to have a more varied diet. Two world wars temporarily halt the population growth. Birth rates slowly start decreasing because of the ideas of birth control and family planning. Since the 1950s birth rates decline faster than death rates (women have less children, economic crises in the 1970s). Because of this negative proportion, the population growth delays dramatically (notwithstanding upcoming migration in the 1960s), and tends to stagnate. The population figures can be combined with the number of households (total population divided by the average number of people in one household) (Quintens 1976; Duche ˆ ne 2000; NIS 2003), which shows a different picture compared to the population growth. Since the 1950s the average number of people per household decreases: couples have less children, more people get divorced, large families are not common anymore, and people tend to live a more ‘individualistic’ life (cf. introduction). The life expectancy at birth (Delanghe 1972; NIS 2003; Willems and Wattelar 1991) increases dramatically at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, due to a decrease in infant mortality (Delanghe 1972; Lodewijckx 1999). This can be explained by better medical care (for both mother and child) and personal hygiene. A rapidly expanding water supply system contributes to the improvement of the situation since the turn of the century (in 1858, Brussels was the first Belgian city to have a public water supply system; in 2000 almost all Belgian families have access to a water supply system). Increases in life expectancy in the twentieth century are mainly due to the fact that people can grow older. Two centuries of heating our homes 51 In the first half of the twentieth century this can be explained by social factors, such as higher income (the industry needs a skilled workforce), better diet, generally better living conditions. In the second part of the century, people grow older because of medical – biological factors (diseases can be prevented and cured). The purchasing power of people did not evolve much during the nineteenth century (Vandenbroeke 1988). This might be explained by a comparable evolution of wages and prices (wages did not increase because of a large labour reserve), although some dramatic short-term changes occurred in both directions. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, however, purchasing power increased, because of increasing wages on the one hand and declining (nominal and real) prices (e.g. grain prices decrease due to the grain import from the United States) on the other. In conclusion: in the past two centuries the Belgian population grew dramatically, although not always at the same pace and due to the same ‘causes’, the number of households grew and people nowadays are likely to grow older than previous birth cohorts. The purchasing power increased dramatically since the first half of the twentieth century, after being almost static for a century. Different fuels and different heating systems can be considered when looking at the case study of the heated living space. The shift between them can be (implicitly) examined using real prices. For example, at the end of the nineteenth century, the real price of coal (Figure 7) starts declining (Dienst Indexcijfer 2000; Michotte 1936 – 1937; NIS 2000; Segers 2002; Vandenbroeke 1988). This might be the result of better production techniques and better transportation systems, but also of the scarcity of wood. Wood was probably the most important base material in the past. It was used for heating, in construction works, in shipbuilding, and it was a fuel in industrial processes (Van Zon 2002). It was easy to find, immediately available and often free (Ponting 1991). Trees were cut down as if they were inexhaustible. Already in the seventeenth century, Great Britain was confronted with severe wood scarcity and it was forced to import wood for shipbuilding (Ponting 1991). This scarcity resulted in a transition to the use of coals (an irreplaceable energy source). The world production of coals increased dramatically in the nineteenth century: from 15 million tons at the beginning of the century to more than Figure 7. Evolution of the real price of coal. 52 D. De Vooght et al. 700 million tons at the turn of the century (Ponting 1991). In Belgium too, the government encourages coal production by granting mine concessions (Pasinomie, 1831, 1860). The decline of the real coal price carries on during the first half of the twentieth century, possibly due to an increasing supply. In the third quarter of the twentieth century oil replaces coal, mostly due to the ease of use, although there also was a fear of scarcity. Since the 1970s, gas became more popular, while in 1946 it was still strictly forbidden to use gas for central heating, because of the risk of explosion. Gas has the same (or even more) ease of use as oil and is less subordinate to world politics. As shown in Figure 8, the real fuel prices are converging towards the end of the twentieth century. To put this in a present-day perspective: because of the current high oil prices, the Belgian federal government has decided to financially support less fortunate families to make sure they can heat their houses. As already mentioned, two approaches are possible when examining the household budget: the national accounts and the (working-class) budget inquiries. Both of these were used to gain insight in the part of the budget spent on heating (Figures 8 and 9). According to the national accounts, the percentage of the private expenditure on heating/lighting doubles in the second half of the nineteenth century. This might be explained by the increasing use of coal instead of wood, which was often free, and by an increasing consumption. The slight increase during the twentieth century was probably linked to the increasing consumption figures (mostly due to an increasing heated volume). However, the results of the working-class budget inquiries show the opposite trend: the percentage of the budget spent on heating/ lighting by working men’s families decreased over the past 100 years. Yet, it almost tripled in the second half of the nineteenth century. This can be compared with the trend shown by the national accounts. However, after 1900, it declines dramatically. Apparently, the improve- ment of the standard of living is more noticeable when examining working-men’s families. The differences between the outcome of the national accounts and the working-class budget inquiries, that occur in 1950, 1975 and 2000, are not really significant. These might be an outcome of the characteristics of the different approaches. 3.3.3. Conclusions. By combining the outcomes of the environmental analyses (regarding CO , SO and similar but not shown NO emissions), with the social and economic trends, we 2 x Figure 8. Real price per 10 MJ. Two centuries of heating our homes 53 Figure 9. Percentage of the budget spent on heating/lighting (the data could not be retrieved for the year 1800). come to a number of concluding remarks about (un)sustainability developments for heating the living space. All three dimensions of sustainability (environmental, social and economic) show relative stability over the nineteenth century (although some short-term changes occurred in both directions), when regarding the society as a whole. Although there have been very big changes in population (factor 3), in level of heated volume per dwelling (factor 5), and in the efficiency of heating systems including isolation measures (approx. factor 20), the total societal environmental emissions show a relatively small difference over the years. The emissions in 2000 are only a factor 1.7 higher than the emissions in the years 1800 and 1850. Between 1900 and 1975, population and consumption figures increase dramatically. Since the efficiency improvement of heating systems and insulation measures do not improve at the same pace, the total amount of emissions increases too. Nonetheless, there is a strong social and economic progress for consumers. More people can heat a considerable part of their houses at an affordable price. Real ‘environmental improvements’ have occurred only after the ‘fulfilment’ of some basic social and economic needs. Heating became more economically and socially sustainable from the second quarter of the twentieth century. However, these developments provoked an unsustainable development in environmental emissions. As of the fourth quarter of the twentieth century, we could state that the product system is developing in a more sustainable way, as all considered aspects develop positively: total environmental emissions are reduced, while the growing needs of society are fulfilled at an affordable price, without putting producers at a disadvantage. 4. Exploring the concept of sustainability for product systems Regarding the concept of sustainability for product systems we have tried to come up with definitions of sustainability for each of the three dimensions while looking at the results. Both the production and the consumption phase should be included in the definition, it should be clear whether the definition is absolute or relative and on what scale the definition can be applied. The following ‘definitions’ of sustainability summarize the outcome of a first discussion within the research group. They may be adapted and refined towards the end of the project. 54 D. De Vooght et al. A product system is economically sustainable when the production phase creates enough profit margin to invest in future improvements and when prices are acceptable for consumers to fulfil their (basic) needs. It is, however, economically unsustainable when production runs with a loss or needs permanent state subsidies. Respecting these definitions, a product system can be economically sustainable in an absolute sense. A product system is socially sustainable when the production takes place under good human labour conditions and the prices are, again, affordable to consumers to fulfil their needs. It is not socially sustainable when employees are exploited or when society’s basic needs cannot be fulfilled. Social sustainability is very much subject to the applied scale of the definition: a system might be sustainable in Belgium and at the same time it might be globally unsustainable, if a part of the world population cannot fulfil the need. These definitions raise some new questions. What about product systems where permanent subsidies are required to make sure a product is affordable for the whole of the population? This was the case for the Belgian water supply system for the largest part of the twentieth century. The Belgian government explicitly did not want private investments in a sector this important to public welfare (Pasinomie 1907). In order to achieve more social sustainability the government used an economically considered non-sustainable instrument of subsidies. And how do employment and unemployment fit in this definition? In the third quarter of the twentieth century, people started using oil and gas to heat their houses. Coal mines were closed, mine workers lost their jobs, but still receive extra social benefits (Pasinomie 1966). These definitions clearly show that economic and social sustainability are strongly related. Prices, employment rates, etc., can be considered important both for the economic and social dimension of sustainability. Finally, we should examine the aspect of environmental sustainability. A product system is environmentally sustainable in absolute terms when non-exhaustible sources are used in both the production and consumption phase and when these do not cause emissions that contribute to exceeding the earth’s carrying capacity. Keeping this definition in mind, very few product systems are environmentally sustainable in an absolute sense. However, if the total environmental impacts in a product system (as a result of both production and consumption) are continuously reduced, the system can be considered getting environmen- tally more sustainable in a relative sense. Nonetheless several questions still remain to be answered. Is it possible to define a product system as sustainable (in all three dimensions) in an absolute sense or is this only possible in a relative sense? And what about a product system that is reducing its overall emissions, partially due to lower consumption levels? Can we call a commodity sustainable when it is environmentally friendly, but at the same time is only affordable to a minor part of the population? While finishing our overall research project we will compare the four case studies over the two centuries studied. This will probably create additional insight into sustainability on a micro level without, however, providing all answers. Notes 1. Research partners: VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) History Department and VITO (Flemish Institute of Technological Research) Product and Technology Studies. Commissioned by the Belgian Federal Public Planning Service—Science Policy. 2. Research proposal. We applied the successive LCA stages as described in the ISO 1404x-standard (ISO 1998 – 2000). According to ISO an LCA must be performed in 4 steps: Two centuries of heating our homes 55 . Goal and scope definition: determining the objective and scope of what is to be studied. It is very important to clearly define the system boundaries. For example, a study might not include transportation and infrastructure, because of its relatively low environmental impact over the product life cycle. . Inventory analysis: making an inventory of all environmental interactions throughout the life cycle of the subject studied. . Impact assessment: analysing the potential impacts on the environment. Possible impacts are global warming, acidification and eutrophication. . Interpretation: interpreting the environmental profile. 3. The figures about the volume in 1950, 1975 and 2000 are figures about the actual living space, not the heated living space. Since in 1950, central heating is not yet common, the heated volume is probably much lower than the figure shown in the matrix. It is possible that in some rooms, other than the living room, electrical and fuel oil stoves were used for secondary heating. In 1975, central heating became more popular. 4. An Schoefs, Robert Nouwen and Annick Boesmans, Museum of Bokrijk and Dirk Van de Vijver, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. 5. The Open Air Museum Bokrijk is an active hands-on museum that aims to take people back in time. Generally speaking, it can be compared to a scale model of Flanders, with 100 historical buildings surrounded by flowers, plants and trees from the authentic landscape (www.bokrijk.be). 6. We combined the real prices of the different kinds of fuel with figures about the amount of MJ per fuel quantity. This way, the real price per MJ was calculated, which made it possible to compare the real price of the different kinds of fuel. Coals: 27500 MJ/ton Fuel oil: 42 MJ/kg Wood (average): 4650 MJ/m References Bots ACAM. 2002. Geschiedenis en duurzaamheid: iets met elkaar van doen?. Tijdschrift voor geschiedenis, 115:231 – 253. Busseniers L. 1978. Volkshuisvesting in Belgie ¨ . Schaarbeek: unpublished thesis. De Bont Y. 1995. 100 jaar wonen in Turnhout. Architectuur van 1895 tot 1995. Zellik: Roularta books. De Clippel A. 1992. Bijdrage tot de studie van de arbeidershuisvesting. Een onderzoek naar de evolutie van de binnenhuisinrichting en het comfort van de beluiken in de Gouden Sterstraat en de woningen van de Gentse Maatschappij voor de Huisvesting, 1830 – 1940. Brussels: unpublished thesis. Delanghe L. 1972. Differentie ¨ le sterfte in Belgie ¨ . Een sociaal demografische analyse. Leuven: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. Dienst Indexcijfer. 2000. Consumptieprijzen (digital file). Brussels. Duche ˆ ne V. 2000. De brutobinnenlandse kapitaalvorming in woongebouwen in Belgie ¨ tussen 1830 en 1890. Reconstructie en analyse van de investeringen en van het investeringsgedrag. Leuven (unpublished dissertation). Fourastie ´ J. 1977. Pouvoir d’achat, prix et salaires. Paris: Gallimard. Geerken TH, De Vooght D, Scholliers P, Spirinckx C, Timmermans V, Van Holderbeke M, Vercalsteren A. 2003. Sustainability development of product systems, 1800 – 2000. Second Intermediary Report. Brussel: Belgian Science Policy. Goossens M. 1992. The economic development of Belgian agriculture: a regional perspective 1812 – 1846. Brussels: Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van Belgie ¨. Govaerts F. 1961. De gezinsuitgaven voor vaste brandstoffen van 1948 tot 1959. Statistische en econometrische studie ¨ n, 2:23 – 42. ISO. 1998 – 2000. ISO standard 14040 (general LCA framework)—1998. ISO standard 14041 (goal and scope definition and inventory analysis)—2000. ISO standard 14042 (environmental impact assessment)—2000. ISO standard 14043 (interpretation)—2000. 56 D. De Vooght et al. Jacquemyns G. 1949. Les budgets familiaux d’ouvriers et d’employe ´ s, 1947 – 1948. Bruxelles: Institut universitaire d’information sociale et e ´ conomique. Jacquemyns G. 1951. Mode de vie des ouvriers, 1948 – 1949. Bruxelles: Institut universitaire d’information sociale et e ´ conomique. Keilman N. 2003. The threat of small households. Nature, 421:489 – 490. Lodewijckx E. 1999. Fertility and family surveys in countries of the ECE region. Standard country report. Belgium, New York and Geneva: United Nations. Michotte F. 1936 – 1937. l’Evolution des prix de de ´ tail en Belgique de 1830 a ` 1913. Bulletin de l’Institut des Recherches e ´ conomiques et sociales, 3:254 – 355. NIS. 2003. Bevolkingscijfers (On-line). Available: http://www.statbel.fgov.be/statistieken.htm. NIS. 1978. Gezinsbudgetonderzoek 1973 – 1974. Statistische Studie ¨ n, 50. NIS. 1963. Het gezinsbudgetonderzoek 1961. Statistische en econometrische studie ¨ n, 5:2 – 87. NIS. 2003. Huishoudbudgetonderzoek 2000 (On-line). Available: http://www.statbel.fgov.be/statistieken.htm. NIS. 1963. Nationale rekeningen 1953 – 1962. Statistische en econometrische studie ¨ n, 4:42 – 99. NIS. 1947 – 1991. Statistieken over gebouwen. Brussel: Nationaal Instituut voor Statistiek. NIS. 1976. Statistische Studie ¨ n 45. Brussel: Nationaal Instituut voor Statistiek. NIS. 1976. Statistisch jaarboek voor Belgie ¨ , boekdeel 95, jaar 1975. Brussel: Nationaal Instituut voor Statistiek. NIS. 1951. Statistisch jaarboek voor Belgie ¨ en Belgisch Kongo, boekdeel 72. Brussel: Nationaal Instituut voor Statistiek. Noorman KJ, Schoot Uiterkamp T, editors. 1998. Green households? Domestic consumers, environment, and sustainability. London: Earthscan. Omnilegie. Volledige verzameling der in Belgie ¨ toepasselijke wetten, besluiten en algemene reglementen (1953 – 2000). Brussels. Pasinomie ou collection comple ` te des lois, de ´ crets, arre ˆte ´ s et re ` glements ge ´ne ´ raux qui peuvent e ˆ tre invoque ´s en Belgique (1788 – 1952). Brussels. Ponting C. 1991. Een groene geschiedenis van de wereld. London: Sinclair-Stevenson. Quintens L. 1976. De structuur van de gezinsuitgaven. Gids op maatschappelijk gebied, 559 – 577. Roberts N, Butlin RA. 1995. Ecological relations in historical times: an introduction. In: Butlin RA, Roberts N (eds). Ecological relations in historical times. Human impact and adaptation. Oxford: Blackwell. pp 1 – 14. Scholliers P, Avondts G. 1981. De Gentse textielarbeiders in de 19e en 20e eeuw. 5: Gentse prijzen, huishuren en e e budgetonderzoeken in de 19 en 20 eeuw. Brussels: Vrije Universiteit Brussel—dienst uitgaven. Segers Y. 2002. Economische groei en levensstandaard. De ontwikkeling van de particuliere consumptie en het voedselverbruik in Belgie ¨ , 1800 – 1913. Leuven (unpublished dissertation). Segers Y, Dejongh G. 2000. De hoofdelijke voedselconsumptie in Belgie ¨ 1830 – 1913. Reconstructie dataset en analyse. In: Segers Y, et al. (eds). Op weg naar een consumptiemaatschappij. Over het verbruik van voeding, kleding en luxegoederen in Belgie ¨ en Nederland (19de – 20ste eeuw). Leuven: Universitaire Pers, pp 1 – 31. de Stokroos M. 2001. Verwarmen en verlichten in de 19 eeuw. Zutphen: Walburg Pers. Vandenbroeke C. 1988. Werkinstrumenten bij een historische en sociaal-economische synthese 14de – 20ste eeuw. In Arbeid in veelvoud. Een huldeboek voor Jan Craeybeckx en Etienne Scholliers. Brussels: VUB Press, pp 260 – Van Overbeeke P. 2001. Kachels, geisers en fornuizen. Keuzeprocessen en energieverbruik in Nederlandse huishoudens, 1920 – 1975. Hilversum: Verloren. Van Zon H. 2002. Geschiedenis en duurzame ontwikkeling. Duurzame ontwikkeling in historisch perspectief. Enkele verkenningen. Nijmegen: Netwerk Duurzaam Hoger Onderwijs. Vriend JJ. 1960. Bouwen en wonen. Amsterdam: Moussault. Willems P, Wattelar C. 1991. Belgium/la Belgique. In Rallu JL, Blum A, editors. European population. Volume 1: Country analysis. Paris: INED. pp 41 – 61. Willems P, Wattelar C. 2003. Vrijgezel belast milieu. De Standaard, 17 January, p. 27. World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). 1987. Our common future—the ‘‘Brundtland Report’’. Published by Oxford University Press. The full text by the UN General Assembly document A/42/427. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Environmental Sciences Taylor & Francis

Two centuries of heating our homes. An empirical – historical contribution to the problem of sustainability on a micro level

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Abstract

Discussions about sustainability are often restricted to statements about energy. However, when the notion was first used, it had a broader meaning. It argued that every generation should strive for economic progress, yet this should affect all generations in a positive way. This interpretation was evolved by the Brundtland commission in 1987. Since the publication of its report ‘Our common future’, it is widely accepted that sustainable development involves a social, economic and environmental dimension. Since there is no unambiguous definition of ‘sustainable development’ on hand, a set of sustainability indicators was developed. However, these indicators are not very instructive about the micro level: can we label a particular commodity ‘sustainable’ or does this have only relatively limited value? To what extent is mankind capable of producing, distributing and consuming in a ‘pure’, efficient and cheap way? To create a long-term view on ‘sustainable development’, important lessons could be learned from the past. ‘Sustainability’ has little meaning without an understanding of long-term ecosystem trajectories and a knowledge of baseline conditions, if they ever existed. The interdisciplinary research project ‘(Un)sustainability developments of product systems, 1800 – 2000’ investigates the (un)sustainability development of four basic needs (potable water, bread, transportation of people over land, and heated living space) in Belgium over the last two centuries, to gain insight into sustainable development on a micro level. This paper focuses on the case study of the heated living space. It explores the boundaries of the research subject, before examining sources and methodology. The project employs Life Cycle Assessment techniques on historical data, which is a first in historical research in Belgium. After studying the social, economic and environmental indicators, the results are combined. This leads to several (cautious) conclusions about sustainability on a micro level. Keywords: Social and economic history, socio-ecological history, sustainability, Life Cycle Assessment, micro level 1. Introduction January 2003. In a contribution in ‘Nature’, scientists of the universities of Michigan and Stanford suggest that singles should go back and live with their parents in order to save the Correspondence: Danie ¨ lle De Vooght, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, HIST, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Tel: 32 2 629 1277. E-mail: danielle.devooght@vub.ac.be ISSN 1569-3430 print/ISSN 1744-4225 online  2006 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/15693430600578446 40 D. De Vooght et al. earth . . . (Keilman 2003). The negative impact of global population growth on biodiversity is amplified by the increasing number of households, which implies an even higher demand for natural resources and a heavier load on biodiversity. Nearly every household in the West owns a refrigerator and heats its house, whether the household consists of one, two or more people. A century ago, people did not have a refrigerator, they lived in smaller houses and they tended to dwell with more people in one house. Two centuries ago, for example, the average number of people per household in Belgium was 5 as opposed to 2.38 in the year 2000. Can we subsequently state that households in the past used their resources more efficiently, or in any case, with much more thrift? This question addresses the discussions about sustainability. These debates are often restricted to statements about energy use and energy efficiency (Van Zon 2002). However, when the notion was first used in Germany within the scope of finding a solution for deforestation in the eighteenth century, it had a much broader meaning. It was argued that every generation should strive for economic progress that, however, should affect both their own generation and future generations in a positive way. Therefore, people should respect nature (Van Zon 2002). This interpretation was reused and developed by the Brundtland commission in 1987 (World Commission on Environment and Development—WCED 1987). Its report ‘Our common future’ contains one of the most cited definitions of sustainability: ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. ...First .. .the elimination of poverty and deprivation. Second . . . the conservation and enhancement of the resource base which alone can ensure that the elimination of poverty is permanent. Third . . . not only economic growth but also social and cultural development. Fourth, and most important, ...the unification of economics and ecology in decision making at all levels’. Meanwhile, it is widely accepted that sustainable development involves the combination of a social, economic and environmental dimension. 2. An empirical – historical contribution to the problem 2.1. Problem definition and research questions Since there is no unambiguous definition of ‘sustainable development’ on hand, a set of ‘sustainability indicators’ was developed on different levels of policy (UN, OECD, federal and regional governments) in order to monitor and get a grip on this process. These indicators explore aspects such as carbon dioxide emissions, unemployment rates, education levels and inflation. The purpose of these indicators is to outline the ‘degree of sustainability’ societies have (or have not yet) attained. The aforementioned indicators regard the macro level but are not very informative when considering the micro level (companies, products, consumers and their behaviour). Can our society produce, distribute, and consume in a ‘clean’, efficient and cheap way? A better understanding of sustainability on the micro level might lead to a higher degree of sustainability on the macro level (and therefore of society as a whole). To create a view on ‘sustainable development’, it might also be useful to cast a glance at the past: ‘No less important is the need for contemporary ecological management to include an historical dimension, especially if the goal is environmental sustainability. ‘‘Sustainability’’ has little meaning without an understanding of long-term ecosystem trajectories and a knowledge of baseline conditions, if they ever existed’ (Roberts and Butlin 1995). Bots (2002) argues that it is an historian’s duty to provide a scientific foundation for knowledge and diagnosis of the present and for prognoses. Therefore, a systematic ecological interpretation of the past is Two centuries of heating our homes 41 essential. Historians can provide relevant data, insights and sources that can help scientists who are engaged with the present and the future to explore the historical dimension of their research subject. 2.2. Objectives of the research project The interdisciplinary research project ‘(Un)sustainability developments of product systems, 1800 – 2000’ wants to gain insight into sustainable development on a micro level. What can be said about the sustainability development of product systems? Can we retrieve an efficiency improvement when looking at production processes over the past two centuries? Does the consumption level influence the efficiency of production processes? How do these elements affect the society in which they occur (on an economic, social and ecological level)? Are the economic, social and ecological dimensions interrelated? The goal of the research project is (1) to make the concept of sustainable development more concrete and well-founded on a micro level (for products) and (2) to study the relationship between sustainable production and consumption. The project investigates the (un)sustainability developments of four basic needs (drinking water, bread, transportation of people over land, and heated living space) in Belgium over the last two centuries. Both the production and the consumption phase of these four items are examined and related to one another, considering environmental, social and economic aspects. We look back in time because we want to get a better perception of the historical development of (un)sustainability within particular product systems. This can help to understand the factors that have an influence on sustainability development as a whole. In order to map the evolution over the past two centuries, six key years (1800, 1850, 1900, 1950, 1975, 2000) were chosen to represent specific stages in the development. The key years each represent a period in time that has specific characteristics (e.g. the year 1900 represents a mature industrial society). Sub-objectives of the project are: identifying dominant factors of influence that were decisive for this development; deriving relevant sustainability indicators on micro level for product systems on environmental, economic and social level, individually as well as in their mutual relationship; identifying policy elements that have influenced the historical process of (un)sustainable development; distributing and testing the research results via publications, colloquia and education. 2.3. The research approach In general, we pursued the same procedure for each of the four case studies. In order to deal with the complexity of each of the four cases, we started our research by ‘setting the borders’. This means giving a detailed definition of every case, in every key year, based on historical research. This is what we call ‘status description’. After the status description the three dimensions of sustainability were mapped. To map the (historical) environmental dimension within the four case studies the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach was used. Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a systematic tool used for assessing the environmental impacts directly or indirectly associated with a specific product, system or a service, over its full life cycle. The LCA approach was chosen since LCA examines the integral environmental load from the cradle to the grave. Other approaches are often limited to one particular environmental effect. Specified information about the input flows (energy use, use of raw materials) and output flows (emissions, waste and by-products) of the total life cycle of a product (or process, service or system) are essential to perform a detailed LCA. The LCA results in an overview of the total 42 D. De Vooght et al. environmental impacts of a product, a process, a system or a service over its complete life cycle. Since some environmental data could not be retrieved for the whole of the period, it was not possible to evaluate the ‘integral’ environmental load within each key year and each case study. However, where possible, the complete ‘life cycle’ of the four cases is investigated, and as many defining factors as possible are taken into account. So the LCA ‘approach’ seemed to be the best option for conducting our investigation, although a detailed LCA study could not be performed. As soon as the environmental parameters were collected they were combined with total Belgian fuel consumption figures. By doing so, statements could be made about the total societal environmental load related to the different product systems. To gain insight into the (historical) social and economic dimensions more ‘general’ data and indicators were collected. Some general indicators provide insight into the development of Belgian society as a whole and can help to explain the trends retrieved within each case study. The indicators are population figures, number of households, life expectancy at birth, infant mortality and purchasing power. The choice of indicators is based on existing research in social and economic history. It is possible to compare these indicators over the past two centuries, since they remain indicative for the social and economic development over the whole of the period. Moreover, they are selected because of the possible reciprocity with the retrieved trends within each case study. For example, the expansion of the water supply system contributed to the rise in life expectancy at birth and the decrease in infant mortality at the turn of the century, while the population growth (among others) started off the search for a better water supply system. Other indicators could have been used as well (e.g. illiteracy, child labour), but it is not our goal to be complete in this respect. The same reasoning explains the choice of case-specific indicators. Since it is impossible to cover every aspect of a product system, we selected some relevant social and economic indicators. The indicators had to be comparable over the years and for the four product systems. The percentage of the population with access to the product, the consumption figures and the increase in infrastructure show the evolution in product availability. Was the product a luxury product at a certain moment in time, only affordable for the well-to-do classes? Did this change (why and when)? The real price of the product (nominal price divided by an average day wage) represents the days of labour needed to be able to purchase a good. Real prices make it possible to compare ‘prices’ over time, since the influence of inflation and other economic variables is ruled out. Finally, the percentage of the budget spent on the purchase of the various products gives an indication on the (changing) importance of these products in the private expenditure. By combining environmental, social and economic indicators we attempted to assess the three-dimensional sustainability development for the four product systems in Belgium, now and in the past two centuries. In this paper we focus on the case study of the heated living space. 3. Heating our living space: a case study about ‘sustainability’ over the past two centuries 3.1. Status description When examining the ‘sustainability development’ of the heating of the living space, one has to bear in mind two components: the volume of the living space that is heated and the heating system (including fuel type). In addition, building materials and modes of construction are important, since insulation of walls and windows has an influence on the amount of energy Two centuries of heating our homes 43 used to heat the building. However, given that the research subject is the heating of a single-family dwelling, the production of building materials itself will not be taken into consideration. The same restriction applies to the production of heating systems and the fuel production, because of the negligible significance when heating one cubic metre of a house. However, in the environmental part of the study the emissions and waste related to the heating of houses, are counted for. Figure 1 shows the system boundaries of this study (the three boxes on the right are not included in our system). While analysing the heating of a single-family dwelling, one should consider a representative mix of housing facilities, heating systems and energy sources, since not every family lives in a dwelling that was built in the year that is studied and not every family immediately acquires a new kind of heating system or energy source. This is the adequate way to compose a legitimate picture of the research subject. A major subject for debate at the onset of the research project was this issue of representativeness. After all, the project aims to pose a statement about Belgium and ‘the average Belgian citizen’. Obviously, this ‘average Belgian citizen’ does (and did) not exist, and we decided to take into consideration the ‘most common’ types of dwellings. We needed to determine the (heated) volume of the average living accommodation and the heating system and energy sources that were used to warm this house (or room). Table I combines our findings in the so-called status description (NIS 1947 – 1991; Vriend, 1960; Busseniers 1978; Scholliers and Avondts 1981; De Clippel, 1992; De Bont 1995; Noorman and Schoot Uiterkamp 1998; Stokroos 2001; Van Overbeeke 2001). Table I shows a strong increase in volume heated per dwelling and the main changes in applied heating systems and fuels during the last 200 years. Obviously, the distinction between city dwellings and countryside dwellings, or rather (when assessing energy use) between open-space development and closed development, also has to be kept in mind, as enclosed housing will require less energy for heating. The period of time a dwelling is heated, the average outside temperature, and the average comfort temperature might all have an influence on the environmental impact of the heating of the living space. Population figures and the average number of people per household provide an indication of the number of households. Prices of goods and the part of the household budget spent on purchasing that good might explain certain trends in consumption behaviour, as might the urbanization level. Figure 1. System boundaries. 44 D. De Vooght et al. Table I. Status description . Volume of Use of insulating (heated) Walls Windows materials living space (m ) Heating system Fuels 1800 Clay or brick Single glazing, No 54 Open fire Wood (1 stone) wooden frames Stove Coal 1850 Clay or brick Single glazing, No 56 Stove Coal (1 stone) wooden frames Wood 1900 Brick Single glazing, No 45 Stove Coal (1 stone) wooden frames Wood 1950 Brick Single glazing, No 147 Stove Coal (1 stone) wooden frames Radiators Fuel oil 1975 Hollow wall Introduction of Limited use 205 Radiators Coal double glazing, Stove Fuel oil steel or aluminium Gas frames 2000 Hollow wall Double glazing, Yes 260 Radiators Gas aluminium frames Fuel oil Electricity 3.2. Sources and data collection A wide range of sources was examined to retrieve data to map and access the environmental, social and economic parameters. A distinction was made between environmental data and social and economic data. 3.2.1. Search for (historical) environmental parameters. Extended research of literature, statistics, archives and museums, and interviews contributed to the identification of the environmental parameters. We conducted a literature search with reference to living conditions over the past two centuries in order to gain a perception of the volume of the (heated) living space and of used building materials. Technical literature covering heating systems provided some details about energy sources and energy use. Housing statistics and housing censuses completed the information about the volume, while statistics concerning equipment of houses and household budget inquiries helped outlining an evolution of heating systems. However, statistics often deal with general information, concerning the whole of the kingdom over a year, while literature frequently tackles a more limited subject, area or social group (particularly working-class dwellings). One has to keep this in mind while further analysing and interpreting the data. Proceeding from the findings in literature and combining these with the expertise of historians and an architectural engineer we decided upon a ‘most common’ dwelling and heating system for 1800, 1850 and 1900. To map the environmental parameters we even appealed on own emissions measurements carried out in some of the houses in the open-air museum of Bokrijk (Geerken et al. 2003). 3.2.2. Search for (historical) social and economic parameters. We started by reading ‘classical’ works concerning social and economic history. This way the long-term evolution became clearer. Demographic studies were examined for their general indicators: population and life expectancy. Consumption prices of the different products (in the twentieth century) were provided by the Belgian Ministry of Economic Affairs. Research by Scholliers and Avondts (1981) and Segers (2002) complemented these figures with the specific prices for the Two centuries of heating our homes 45 nineteenth century. These nominal prices were combined with the ‘average daily wage’, as suggested by Vandenbroeke (1988) from the sixteenth century onwards, up to 1980. This proportion (nominal price divided by an average wage) is called the real price of a product. As already mentioned, real prices represent the days of labour (i.e. the time) needed to be able to purchase a good. Using the average daily wage, the purchasing power (Vandenbroeke 1988) can also be outlined, which makes it possible to examine to what extent people’s ‘spendable income’ evolved over the past two centuries. When trying to examine the availability of the products, we looked at the percentage of the people that had access to the product. For example, how many families had central heating? These data were retrieved by combining literature and statistics. Finally, we tried to get a picture of the percentage of the budget spent on the purchase of the various products. Different kinds of sources can be examined. Since the mid-nineteenth century, budget inquiries (Jacquemyns 1949; NIS 1963; Quintens 1976; Scholliers and Avondts 1981) were carried out. These inquiries tried to point out how much of the expenditure of an ‘average’ working-class household was spent on bread, clothes, heating/lighting, rent, etc., over a period of time (one week, two weeks, one month, one year), by different families. Until the 1950s, these families were by far most working men’s families; thereafter, white-collar households and households headed by unemployed or independent workers were included. Although these family budget inquiries are based on solid research, they are not conducted in a uniform way. Methods, concepts and composition of the set of households differ for each researcher. When looking at one family for a long period or at different families for a shorter period, the results will vary (Segers and Dejongh 2000). Nonetheless, interesting findings can be retrieved from these budget inquiries: e.g., the importance of bread as a foodstuff declines in favour of expenses on meat in the twentieth century. At the same time, expenses on clothing, medical care and leisure time increased, compared with food. We will use these budget inquiries to gain a picture of the working men’s living conditions over the past two centuries and more specifically concerning the heating of his living space. Another way to retrieve the part of the budget spent on different products, is provided by the national accounts (NIS 1963, 1976a, b, Segers 2002). The first national accounts were computed in 1953. Historical constructions go back to 1850. Theoretically, these accounts contain all private consumers’ spending in Belgium. By looking at the amounts spent on heating, it was possible to calculate the percentage of the total private consumption (this is the consumption of all Belgian households) for this product. These numbers are averages for Belgium, not just working men or other social or demographic groups. For 1850 and 1900 we used figures calculated by Segers (2002), for 1950, 1975 and 2000 we used figures from the National Institute of Statistics. It was not possible to retrieve these data as early as 1800 yet. The advantage of national accounts is that they were more or less constructed in the same consistent way and they are average figures, although this can also be seen as a disadvantage, since these figures are not ‘representative’ for each ‘population group’. 3.3. Results For both the environmental part and the social and economic part, all graphs presented contain dashed lines to connect the results for each of the key years. These dashed lines do not necessarily indicate the actual development. 3.3.1. Environmental indicators. The goal of the environmental assessment over the two centuries is to compare the environmental impacts related to the heating of the living space in Belgium over the different key-years that were defined. We used the LCA approach and defined a functional 46 D. De Vooght et al. unit, a reference base of comparison of the environmental issues over the years studied. This functional unit was defined as ‘the heating of 1 m of an average single-family dwelling in Belgium, which may be considered as representative for that key year, to a comfort temperature of 188C, averaged over the seasons (per degree-day)’ (Geerken et al. 2003). Together with the expertise of historians and an architectural engineer we decided upon a ‘most common’ dwelling and heating system for 1800, 1850 and 1900. Based on these descriptions, we heated three different houses in Bokrijk, using three different heating systems, to carry out environmental measurements (see Figures 2 and 3) to be able to determine emissions and energy use, both necessary to map some of the environmental parameters based on the LCA approach. In order to make a fair LCA-based comparison, the energy consumption and emissions as measured in Bokrijk were extrapolated to a comfort temperature of 188C and to an average heating behaviour of 12 hours per day. Where coals were used, SO emissions were adapted to the higher sulphur content of coals in the past. These measurements in Bokrijk gave vital information about the emission factors (expressed as emissions per kg of fuel type) when using representative heating systems in dwellings typical for the key years. When wood is used as a fuel (mainly in the nineteenth century), the full emissions of burning are included. No credits for afforestation are given because the production of wood was not a sustainable practice. The emissions of the different fuel production processes (like wood, coal, oil, gas) are excluded in the study due to lack of data for these processes in all considered years. The emissions that are considered in the analysis are the direct emissions from the burning of the fuels. Figure 4 shows the evolution of the functional unit, more specifically the energy consumption (in MJ) that is needed for heating one cubic metre (m ) of an average Belgian Figure 2. Picture of a ‘Leuvense stoof’ used for emission measurements in Bokrijk. Two centuries of heating our homes 47 Figure 3. Emission measurements at the chimney of one of the houses in the Bokrijk museum. Figure 4. Tendency in energy consumption per m and per degree-day. single-family dwelling, per degree-day and in the key years. It is clear that over the years much less energy is required for heating one cubic metre (of a single-family dwelling to a comfort temperature of 188C, averaged over the seasons). This implies that the energy efficiency has improved substantially (more than factor 20). For 1800 we have extrapolated the measured energy use (valid for 158C) to a comfort level of 188C. Efficiency improvements can be ascribed to a combination of various factors. The conversion from open hearth (efficiency approx. 15%) to modern boilers with continuously improving boiler performances (more efficient incineration processes: around 100%) is one of these factors. Since 1988, heating systems should comply with several demands concerning energy efficiency (Pasinomie 1988). More stringent insulation measures (e.g. introduction of cavity wall and double glazing) also contribute to the improvement in efficiency. In 1975, the Belgian government grants an incentive bonus to people who improve the insulation of their 48 D. De Vooght et al. houses. It wants to encourage energy efficiency among the population (Pasinomie 1975). Urbanization implies a higher ratio of closed-space dwellings and the introduction of high-rise buildings. These types of construction suffer less heat losses. Finally, the increase in double- income couples (working outside the house) and the introduction of the thermostat result in a decrease in energy use during absence on working days. These various factors add up to an impressive efficiency improvement in 200 years, mainly due to the use of more efficient heating systems, dense city building and better insulation measures. For the environmental emissions associated with the total Belgian society, total consumption figures were available for the key years 1850 and 1900. These consumption figures were multiplied with the emissions factors for the different fuel types as measured in Bokrijk. We considered this approach more reliable than the one that would use the measured emissions of the representative heating systems and dwellings directly. In this way, the aforementioned extrapolations did not have an influence on the outcome for these years. For 1800 there is no reliable consumption data available. Therefore we used the measured data from Bokrijk as a good indication. During the measurements we could only reach a comfort level of about 158C in the farmer’s house with open fire, so we assumed that this was representative for that period. The results of this ‘applied history’ are incorporated in the analysis further on. When multiplying the aforementioned energy needs (see Figure 4) with total consumption figures of the Belgian population as a whole (based on total private expenditure figures), it appears that the efficiency improvement (Figure 4) is counterbalanced by the population growth (increased evolution) and the increased consumption (more m of the houses are heated over the years). Figure 5 shows the contribution of the total consumption (for heating houses) to the exhaust of CO emissions. Between 1800 and 1850 the impressive efficiency improvements (see Figure 4) are neutralized by an enormous population growth in Belgium (almost 4.5 million people in 1850 as opposed to almost 3 million people in 1800). Consequently, the total contribution to CO emissions during that time period remains stable. Between 1850 and 1900 efficiency improvements have the upper Figure 5. Trends in CO emissions caused by total consumption for heating in Belgium. 2 Two centuries of heating our homes 49 hand, which means that the total contribution to the exhaust of CO emissions decreases slightly. From 1900 until 1975, the efficiency improvement is counterbalanced by a more luxurious life (more cubic metres of the living space are heated) and by the decline of the average number of people per household and the population growth. Consequently, the total CO emissions increased rather spectacularly in that time period. Since 1975 there is a turn towards less CO emissions. This is caused by a synergy of different factors. More stringent insulation measures resulted in the introduction of hollow walls and the advent of the thermostat. The energy use during working days decreased because of the increase in two-income families. Households consume more electricity, due to an increase in the use of electrical appliances that emit heat. Consequently, less fuel energy is needed for heating. Finally, there has been a substantial improvement in boiler efficiency (even more than 100%). However, the rise in two-income families and use of electricity are no real savings for society as a whole, as the working place is also heated and electricity use increased over the past decades. Figure 6 shows the trend in released SO emissions related to the total consumption for heating of the living space over the past two centuries in Belgium. The trend is similar to the CO evolution over the past two decades. From circa 1975, the gradual shift from oil to natural gas results in a reduced exhaust of SO emissions. On the contrary, the reduction in NO emissions is 2 x less sharp in the same time period since natural gas contains relatively more N, which results in more NO emissions. The overall decrease of NO from circa 1975 can be ascribed to a x x combination of various factors. The use of more efficient boilers (e.g. atmospheric, condensing boilers, with low NO exhaust) is one of them. In the same time period (from around 1975) more stringent regulations have resulted in the use of a more refined oil (lower S content), so that less SO emissions are released during burning in the boiler. The trend of the other emissions studied over the past two centuries is very similar to that of the CO and SO trends. The difference between 1800 and 2000 lies, for all environmental 2 2 impact categories, in the order of factor 2. We consider this as a surprisingly small difference looking at the much higher individual consumption level, the growth in population and the more ‘individual’ way of life. Figure 6. Trends in SO emissions caused by total consumption for heating in Belgium. 2 50 D. De Vooght et al. The (first) results of the environmental assessment show an impressive efficiency improvement in 200 years. This is mainly due to the use of more efficient heating systems, dense city building and better insulation measures. The energy efficiency improvement almost totally neutralizes the dramatic increase of the population and the consumption, when considering the key years 1800 and 2000. 3.3.2. Social and economic indicators. First an outline of general indicators, like population figures and life expectancy, will be presented. Then more case-specific indicators like real prices and the percentage of the budget spent on heating will be examined more thoroughly. One also has to bear in mind the underlying social dimensions. For example, the volume of the heated living space has evolved over the past two centuries. This is imperative to know when analysing the environmental issues by using the LCA approach. It also means that people in 2000 can afford to heat a larger part of their house than their ancestors in 1850 did (see Table I). However, although purchasing power was steadily increasing towards the turn of the century, living space decreased at the end of the nineteenth century, due to higher population figures and urbanization. These are, as such, relevant underlying social and economic indicators. Belgian population figures over the past two centuries confirm the so-called ‘demographic transition’: the transition from a situation with high birth and high death rates to a situation with low birth and low death rates (Goossens 1992; NIS 1951, 1976, 2003). Because the death rates diminished faster than the birth rates, the Belgian (as well as the European) population grew dramatically since the middle of the nineteenth century and in the beginning of the twentieth century. The lower death rates can be explained by a reciprocity between the improvement of the standard of living (at the end of the nineteenth century, the Belgian government demands 16 m of living space per person, in order to guarantee public welfare. However, these measures were not immediately applied), agricultural innovations, better transportation (which makes the consequences of a bad harvest less catastrophic), the grain import from the United States at the end of the nineteenth century (although initially this created problems for the local farmers), medical innovations and improved personal hygiene, and higher wages which, for example, make it possible to have a more varied diet. Two world wars temporarily halt the population growth. Birth rates slowly start decreasing because of the ideas of birth control and family planning. Since the 1950s birth rates decline faster than death rates (women have less children, economic crises in the 1970s). Because of this negative proportion, the population growth delays dramatically (notwithstanding upcoming migration in the 1960s), and tends to stagnate. The population figures can be combined with the number of households (total population divided by the average number of people in one household) (Quintens 1976; Duche ˆ ne 2000; NIS 2003), which shows a different picture compared to the population growth. Since the 1950s the average number of people per household decreases: couples have less children, more people get divorced, large families are not common anymore, and people tend to live a more ‘individualistic’ life (cf. introduction). The life expectancy at birth (Delanghe 1972; NIS 2003; Willems and Wattelar 1991) increases dramatically at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, due to a decrease in infant mortality (Delanghe 1972; Lodewijckx 1999). This can be explained by better medical care (for both mother and child) and personal hygiene. A rapidly expanding water supply system contributes to the improvement of the situation since the turn of the century (in 1858, Brussels was the first Belgian city to have a public water supply system; in 2000 almost all Belgian families have access to a water supply system). Increases in life expectancy in the twentieth century are mainly due to the fact that people can grow older. Two centuries of heating our homes 51 In the first half of the twentieth century this can be explained by social factors, such as higher income (the industry needs a skilled workforce), better diet, generally better living conditions. In the second part of the century, people grow older because of medical – biological factors (diseases can be prevented and cured). The purchasing power of people did not evolve much during the nineteenth century (Vandenbroeke 1988). This might be explained by a comparable evolution of wages and prices (wages did not increase because of a large labour reserve), although some dramatic short-term changes occurred in both directions. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, however, purchasing power increased, because of increasing wages on the one hand and declining (nominal and real) prices (e.g. grain prices decrease due to the grain import from the United States) on the other. In conclusion: in the past two centuries the Belgian population grew dramatically, although not always at the same pace and due to the same ‘causes’, the number of households grew and people nowadays are likely to grow older than previous birth cohorts. The purchasing power increased dramatically since the first half of the twentieth century, after being almost static for a century. Different fuels and different heating systems can be considered when looking at the case study of the heated living space. The shift between them can be (implicitly) examined using real prices. For example, at the end of the nineteenth century, the real price of coal (Figure 7) starts declining (Dienst Indexcijfer 2000; Michotte 1936 – 1937; NIS 2000; Segers 2002; Vandenbroeke 1988). This might be the result of better production techniques and better transportation systems, but also of the scarcity of wood. Wood was probably the most important base material in the past. It was used for heating, in construction works, in shipbuilding, and it was a fuel in industrial processes (Van Zon 2002). It was easy to find, immediately available and often free (Ponting 1991). Trees were cut down as if they were inexhaustible. Already in the seventeenth century, Great Britain was confronted with severe wood scarcity and it was forced to import wood for shipbuilding (Ponting 1991). This scarcity resulted in a transition to the use of coals (an irreplaceable energy source). The world production of coals increased dramatically in the nineteenth century: from 15 million tons at the beginning of the century to more than Figure 7. Evolution of the real price of coal. 52 D. De Vooght et al. 700 million tons at the turn of the century (Ponting 1991). In Belgium too, the government encourages coal production by granting mine concessions (Pasinomie, 1831, 1860). The decline of the real coal price carries on during the first half of the twentieth century, possibly due to an increasing supply. In the third quarter of the twentieth century oil replaces coal, mostly due to the ease of use, although there also was a fear of scarcity. Since the 1970s, gas became more popular, while in 1946 it was still strictly forbidden to use gas for central heating, because of the risk of explosion. Gas has the same (or even more) ease of use as oil and is less subordinate to world politics. As shown in Figure 8, the real fuel prices are converging towards the end of the twentieth century. To put this in a present-day perspective: because of the current high oil prices, the Belgian federal government has decided to financially support less fortunate families to make sure they can heat their houses. As already mentioned, two approaches are possible when examining the household budget: the national accounts and the (working-class) budget inquiries. Both of these were used to gain insight in the part of the budget spent on heating (Figures 8 and 9). According to the national accounts, the percentage of the private expenditure on heating/lighting doubles in the second half of the nineteenth century. This might be explained by the increasing use of coal instead of wood, which was often free, and by an increasing consumption. The slight increase during the twentieth century was probably linked to the increasing consumption figures (mostly due to an increasing heated volume). However, the results of the working-class budget inquiries show the opposite trend: the percentage of the budget spent on heating/ lighting by working men’s families decreased over the past 100 years. Yet, it almost tripled in the second half of the nineteenth century. This can be compared with the trend shown by the national accounts. However, after 1900, it declines dramatically. Apparently, the improve- ment of the standard of living is more noticeable when examining working-men’s families. The differences between the outcome of the national accounts and the working-class budget inquiries, that occur in 1950, 1975 and 2000, are not really significant. These might be an outcome of the characteristics of the different approaches. 3.3.3. Conclusions. By combining the outcomes of the environmental analyses (regarding CO , SO and similar but not shown NO emissions), with the social and economic trends, we 2 x Figure 8. Real price per 10 MJ. Two centuries of heating our homes 53 Figure 9. Percentage of the budget spent on heating/lighting (the data could not be retrieved for the year 1800). come to a number of concluding remarks about (un)sustainability developments for heating the living space. All three dimensions of sustainability (environmental, social and economic) show relative stability over the nineteenth century (although some short-term changes occurred in both directions), when regarding the society as a whole. Although there have been very big changes in population (factor 3), in level of heated volume per dwelling (factor 5), and in the efficiency of heating systems including isolation measures (approx. factor 20), the total societal environmental emissions show a relatively small difference over the years. The emissions in 2000 are only a factor 1.7 higher than the emissions in the years 1800 and 1850. Between 1900 and 1975, population and consumption figures increase dramatically. Since the efficiency improvement of heating systems and insulation measures do not improve at the same pace, the total amount of emissions increases too. Nonetheless, there is a strong social and economic progress for consumers. More people can heat a considerable part of their houses at an affordable price. Real ‘environmental improvements’ have occurred only after the ‘fulfilment’ of some basic social and economic needs. Heating became more economically and socially sustainable from the second quarter of the twentieth century. However, these developments provoked an unsustainable development in environmental emissions. As of the fourth quarter of the twentieth century, we could state that the product system is developing in a more sustainable way, as all considered aspects develop positively: total environmental emissions are reduced, while the growing needs of society are fulfilled at an affordable price, without putting producers at a disadvantage. 4. Exploring the concept of sustainability for product systems Regarding the concept of sustainability for product systems we have tried to come up with definitions of sustainability for each of the three dimensions while looking at the results. Both the production and the consumption phase should be included in the definition, it should be clear whether the definition is absolute or relative and on what scale the definition can be applied. The following ‘definitions’ of sustainability summarize the outcome of a first discussion within the research group. They may be adapted and refined towards the end of the project. 54 D. De Vooght et al. A product system is economically sustainable when the production phase creates enough profit margin to invest in future improvements and when prices are acceptable for consumers to fulfil their (basic) needs. It is, however, economically unsustainable when production runs with a loss or needs permanent state subsidies. Respecting these definitions, a product system can be economically sustainable in an absolute sense. A product system is socially sustainable when the production takes place under good human labour conditions and the prices are, again, affordable to consumers to fulfil their needs. It is not socially sustainable when employees are exploited or when society’s basic needs cannot be fulfilled. Social sustainability is very much subject to the applied scale of the definition: a system might be sustainable in Belgium and at the same time it might be globally unsustainable, if a part of the world population cannot fulfil the need. These definitions raise some new questions. What about product systems where permanent subsidies are required to make sure a product is affordable for the whole of the population? This was the case for the Belgian water supply system for the largest part of the twentieth century. The Belgian government explicitly did not want private investments in a sector this important to public welfare (Pasinomie 1907). In order to achieve more social sustainability the government used an economically considered non-sustainable instrument of subsidies. And how do employment and unemployment fit in this definition? In the third quarter of the twentieth century, people started using oil and gas to heat their houses. Coal mines were closed, mine workers lost their jobs, but still receive extra social benefits (Pasinomie 1966). These definitions clearly show that economic and social sustainability are strongly related. Prices, employment rates, etc., can be considered important both for the economic and social dimension of sustainability. Finally, we should examine the aspect of environmental sustainability. A product system is environmentally sustainable in absolute terms when non-exhaustible sources are used in both the production and consumption phase and when these do not cause emissions that contribute to exceeding the earth’s carrying capacity. Keeping this definition in mind, very few product systems are environmentally sustainable in an absolute sense. However, if the total environmental impacts in a product system (as a result of both production and consumption) are continuously reduced, the system can be considered getting environmen- tally more sustainable in a relative sense. Nonetheless several questions still remain to be answered. Is it possible to define a product system as sustainable (in all three dimensions) in an absolute sense or is this only possible in a relative sense? And what about a product system that is reducing its overall emissions, partially due to lower consumption levels? Can we call a commodity sustainable when it is environmentally friendly, but at the same time is only affordable to a minor part of the population? While finishing our overall research project we will compare the four case studies over the two centuries studied. This will probably create additional insight into sustainability on a micro level without, however, providing all answers. Notes 1. Research partners: VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) History Department and VITO (Flemish Institute of Technological Research) Product and Technology Studies. Commissioned by the Belgian Federal Public Planning Service—Science Policy. 2. Research proposal. We applied the successive LCA stages as described in the ISO 1404x-standard (ISO 1998 – 2000). According to ISO an LCA must be performed in 4 steps: Two centuries of heating our homes 55 . Goal and scope definition: determining the objective and scope of what is to be studied. It is very important to clearly define the system boundaries. For example, a study might not include transportation and infrastructure, because of its relatively low environmental impact over the product life cycle. . Inventory analysis: making an inventory of all environmental interactions throughout the life cycle of the subject studied. . Impact assessment: analysing the potential impacts on the environment. Possible impacts are global warming, acidification and eutrophication. . Interpretation: interpreting the environmental profile. 3. The figures about the volume in 1950, 1975 and 2000 are figures about the actual living space, not the heated living space. Since in 1950, central heating is not yet common, the heated volume is probably much lower than the figure shown in the matrix. It is possible that in some rooms, other than the living room, electrical and fuel oil stoves were used for secondary heating. In 1975, central heating became more popular. 4. An Schoefs, Robert Nouwen and Annick Boesmans, Museum of Bokrijk and Dirk Van de Vijver, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. 5. The Open Air Museum Bokrijk is an active hands-on museum that aims to take people back in time. Generally speaking, it can be compared to a scale model of Flanders, with 100 historical buildings surrounded by flowers, plants and trees from the authentic landscape (www.bokrijk.be). 6. We combined the real prices of the different kinds of fuel with figures about the amount of MJ per fuel quantity. This way, the real price per MJ was calculated, which made it possible to compare the real price of the different kinds of fuel. Coals: 27500 MJ/ton Fuel oil: 42 MJ/kg Wood (average): 4650 MJ/m References Bots ACAM. 2002. Geschiedenis en duurzaamheid: iets met elkaar van doen?. Tijdschrift voor geschiedenis, 115:231 – 253. Busseniers L. 1978. Volkshuisvesting in Belgie ¨ . Schaarbeek: unpublished thesis. De Bont Y. 1995. 100 jaar wonen in Turnhout. 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Journal

Environmental SciencesTaylor & Francis

Published: Mar 1, 2006

Keywords: Social and economic history; socio-ecological history; sustainability; Life Cycle Assessment; micro level

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