Lifestyle changes – key insights
Tackling climate change means different ways of living and engaging with the world around us. The way we travel, the food we eat and the way we use energy at home are everyday behaviours that are critical for making progress on carbon emissions but have proven stubbornly resistant to change. According to the Committee on Climate Change, 40% of carbon emissions in the UK come from households.
Reducing emissions means globally coordinated systemic solutions and profound changes to people’s day-to-day lives – particularly people living in rich, high-emission countries. While increasing numbers of people are concerned about climate change and behaviours are starting to shift, low-carbon lifestyles are very far from being the norm. The social science on how to engage people through climate conversations and catalyse low-carbon lifestyles is increasingly robust, and we’re working with our partners and clients to put these insights into practice.
Key insights from our work
- Meaningful and long-lasting changes to the way we live require government-led policies, but also shifts in social and cultural norms driven by citizens. Democratic governments have the power to change policy but they need evidence of public consent before they will do it, and that consent comes from public discussion and public action.
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- We are deeply influenced by those around us – what we see them doing, and the conversations we have with them. Talking about climate change with the people around us is a crucial part of making change. Campaigns should encourage peer-to-peer communications.
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- The reasons and motivations behind changes in behaviour really matter. When an action is perceived to be driven by a sense of conviction (‘I want to do this’) rather than as the result of coercion (‘I’m being told I should do this’), then we are more likely to adopt other similar behaviours. Campaigns that focus on the motivations and values that underpin behaviours are therefore more likely to be successful.
- Thinking carefully about the values an audience holds and finding ways to craft messages about behaviour change that focus on intrinsic values (such as compassion and community cohesion) rather than extrinsic values (such as wealth, power and social status) is critical.
- Encouraging people to consciously think about adopting low-carbon behaviours is a crucial element of campaigns that successfully promote low-carbon lifestyles. This is in contrast to seeking to nudge behaviour change by, for example, highlighting incentives or offering ‘opt out’ rather than ‘opt in’ schemes.
- Behaviour change campaigns should build people’s confidence and belief they can make a difference – known as ‘self-efficacy’ – and highlight the genuine benefits to health, wellbeing and community cohesion that come from low-carbon choices.
- People struggling financially, emotionally or socially – for instance as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic – are not always in a position to make changes. It is important to focus on the audiences and behaviours where intervention can make the most difference, and acknowledge people’s differing levels of responsibility and capacity to make changes.
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