The transformative effect of the introduction of water volumetric billing in a disadvantaged housing area in Sweden

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Domestic water payment schemes are often a product of their time, place and what is perceived to be customary. Aspects that payment schemes can take into account include resource conservation, equity, maintainability, and profitability. In contemporary Sweden profitable environmentally sustainable solutions are promoted, such as the introduction of volumetric billing of water in rental apartments. This paper describes the detailed consequences of this change in the payment structure for domestic water in terms of reduced resource consumption, direct impact on household economies and perceptions of the system's change process. By combining high-resolution quantitative data on water usage and socio-economic household characteristics with qualitative data from semi-standardized interviews with residents, it is possible to identify the different impacts of the system's change and how the process was experienced. It was shown that while water usage decreased by 30%, 63% of the households had increased monthly costs, and unemployed residents were further disadvantaged and closer to social exclusion. Focusing on making environmental sustainability profitable, as posited in ecological modernization theory, may shadow negative impacts on social sustainability.

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