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Why on earth did I buy that? A study of regretted appliance purchases

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Roberts, T 
Hope, A 


If targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thereby tackle climate change are to be achieved, it will be necessary to reduce both embodied energy costs (e.g. in terms of producing and manufacturing the products and services that society consumes) and operational energy costs. Reducing the number of purchases that people regret could be a first step in changing the overall dynamic of consumption patterns. This research looks at some potentially adverse effects of consumption on well-being (e.g. negative emotions), applying social practice theory to give insights into why people make purchases that they feel negatively about. This paper draws from: (i) findings of a national survey of over 2000 respondents which found that 53% of adults had reported regretting purchasing an electrical device at some point, and that 23% regretted making such a purchase within the past year; and (ii) a series of walking interviews around people's homes that provide detailed insights into the nature and extent of regretted purchases of electrical goods (e.g. resentment at built-in obsolescence, frustration at the pace of technological change). By combining the qualitative and quantitative data, we develop a typology of regretted consumption and explore the underlying factors that lead to such purchases. The paper concludes with a discussion of the policy implications of this research.



regret, consumption, sustainability, well-being

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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

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Royal Society Publishing
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/K039326/1)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/N02351X/1)
The research presented in this paper combines data collected as part of two projects. The Whole Systems Energy monitoring project was funded by the EPSRC (EP/K039326/1) and the ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The problem of invisibility for environmental policy’ was funded by the British Academy (SG142500).