Degrowth initiatives in the urban water sector? A social multi-criteria evaluation of non-conventional water alternatives in Metropolitan Barcelona

David Sauri Pujol, Laia Domènech, Hug March

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69 Citations (Scopus)


Debates on degrowth have mainly focused on theoretical issues, specially around the unsustainability of the current economic model based on growth. Along those lines some scholars have dealt with the opportunities and barriers to voluntary social action for degrowth at a general level. Notwithstanding the key importance of such debates, we argue that local strategies to move towards degrowth are still to be explored. Departing from the specific case of water, in this paper we interrogate the compatibility of non-conventional centralised and decentralised water supply technologies (desalination, reclaimed water reuse, greywater reuse and rainwater harvesting) with degrowth principles. Taking as a case study the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (Spain), a social multi-criteria evaluation has been performed to explore the feasibility, desirability and acceptability of both models. The paper aims to explore the pros and cons of the different water alternatives in two different (and hypothetic) societies: one based on growth (business-as-usual) and one based on degrowth. The technical analysis reveals that rainwater harvesting and reclaimed water reuse are the most preferred alternatives from a degrowth perspective while reclaimed water reuse and desalination are the most preferred alternatives from a growth perspective. The social multi-criteria analysis also serves to unveil which social actors may favour or block the adoption of each alternative. Notwithstanding that most social groups see desalination as the least desired option, this is the hegemonic non-conventional source in Spain which evidences the prevalence of growth discourses in water management. Local decision-makers, city council managers and environmental groups clearly opt for the promotion of rainwater harvesting and as a result, they appear as potential allies to promote degrowth in water consumption. The social multi-criteria evaluation helps to elucidate the main challenges that need to be addressed in the pursuit of a more sustainable and equitable water management. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-55
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • Decentralisation
  • Degrowth
  • Metropolitan Area of Barcelona
  • Non-conventional water supply
  • Social multi-criteria evaluation
  • Urban water management


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