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I am what I drive: Challenges of sustainable daily commute in UAE

Iyanna, Shilpa, Bosangit, Carmela ORCID:, Carrigan, Marylyn and Lazell, Jordon 2017. I am what I drive: Challenges of sustainable daily commute in UAE. Presented at: ERSCP2017 Conference, Skiathos Greece, 1-5 October 2017.

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Practice theories offer a new approach to studying sustainable consumer behaviour through conceptualising behaviour via a series of actions as practices that contain elements that recursively utilise agentive (i.e. individualistic) and structural (i.e. systemic) thinking [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. To date, practice theory has been investigated within a landscape that concerns generalised social phenomena and arrangements grounded in the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans. This leaves a significant gap to explore behaviours based in an alternative societal context, particularly regarding the study of unsustainable consumption. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a challenging case to examine as it is often referred to as a “cathedral of consumption” [6] based on “a spectacle of abundance and excess” [7:98]. The Ecological Footprint of the UAE is one of the highest in the world at 9.5 global hectares per capita [8]. Vehicle density in Dubai is one of the highest in the world [9] and produces the second-largest impact on emissions in the country [10]. As transportation is environmentally significant and habitual [11], this paper aims to explore the specific sets of practices associated with daily commute to understand the challenges of advancing sustainable use of transportation in this region. Shove et al’s [12], social practice theory highlights three elements of practices: materials, meanings and competencies provided the analytical framework for examining the daily commuting practices of Emiratis and expats. Using a qualitative approach, focus group discussions and interviews were conducted with Emiratis and expats to explore how materials, meanings and competences associated with the practice of the “daily commute” manifests itself in everyday lives of consumers in UAE. Findings reveal that the sustainability context in daily commuting is challenged by how meanings and competences influence the use of specific materials. Emiratis’ use of cars is not merely for convenience but is strongly motivated by the associated meanings (prestige, social symbols) and is further compounded by their competency (for example, a misconception that new cars do not contribute to the existing environmental problems). Expats speak of structural challenges from the existing system of transportation and extreme weather conditions; for them, using their own car is all about convenience. Public transportation and other forms of sustainable transportation (e.g. cycling, carpooling) were not popular choices for the daily commute. Recent environmental initiatives mean the UAE government could significantly influence the practice of daily commuting with their introduction of the new materials (e.g. more cycle paths; increased toll points; flying taxi and hyper loop) [13, 14, 15, 16] and competencies (skills, knowledge, education, awareness). The findings from this study suggest promotional campaigns should enhance competences and facilitate the adoption of new meanings for the new materials such as prestige and social symbolism associated with caring for the environment and sustainability. Key Words: Theories of Practice, Social Practice theory; United Arab Emirates; sustainable consumer behavior; daily commute.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Submitted
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
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Last Modified: 03 Nov 2022 10:09

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