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A framework for sustainable lifestyles

Graham Russell, Head of the Centre of Expertise on Influencing Behaviours at Defra, explains how the new Framework for Sustainable Lifestyles provides a tool to help develop effective approaches to influencing behaviour and encouraging more sustainable lifestyles.

The Centre of Expertise on Influencing Behaviours can also provide a workshop to outline how best to use this approach. Please contact Graham via the SD Scene email addres:

The Cabinet Office Behavioural Insights Team’s recent annual report highlights examples of the application of behavioural insights to policy – see our article Applying behavioural insights for sustainable policy.

With citizens across Europe consuming 30% more natural resources than the Earth can replenish, the Framework for Sustainable Lifestyles aims to help Defra and other organisations meet the challenge of achieving lifestyles that minimise our impact on the environment.

Framework for Sustainable Lifestyles

The framework provides a useful tool in helping to shape an influencing behaviours approach across a range of policy areas. It particularly gives definition as to how to influence different groups of people rather than treat everyone the same. The Centre of Expertise on Influencing Behaviours can also provide a workshop to outline how best to use this approach.

The framework has been published by Defra’s Centre of Expertise on Influencing Behaviour, which seeks to influence the behaviour of people and businesses by contributing to the development of more effective interventions.

Understanding and influencing behaviours

The framework sets out Defra’s approach to understanding and influencing behaviour, outlining a set of key behaviours that constitute a sustainable lifestyle, identifying best practice to influence behaviour and offering insights on why some people act. The new framework builds on Defra’s influential 2008 Framework for Pro-Environmental Behaviour and draws on developments in the evidence base over the last 2 years.

To enable sustainable lifestyles and informs the development of interventions that address motivations and barriers at a personal and societal level, the framework seeks to understand:

  • The key behaviours for sustainable lifestyles;
  • What people and businesses are currently doing, what different groups will do, and with what level of support;
  • Where the key impacts are;
  • The motivations and barriers to action;
  • The package of tools and interventions that will secure the change and how they can be most effective;
  • Who should develop and deliver these tools and interventions.

Sustainable behaviours, motivations and barriers

With nine headline groups of behaviours, 30 key behaviours and further specific actions are identified that constitute a sustainable lifestyle. The headline behaviours are:

  • Eco-improving your home, eg fitting loft insulation;
  • Using energy and water wisely, eg line-drying laundry;
  • Extending the life of things, eg repairing furniture;
  • Cooking and managing a sustainable and healthier diet, eg planning meals ahead;
  • Choosing eco-products and services, eg low impact clothes;
  • Travelling sustainably, eg combining trips;
  • Setting up and using resources in your community, eg swapping skills;
  • Using and future-proofing outdoor spaces, eg using rainwater;
  • Being part of improving the environment, eg volunteering.

To understand what people are currently doing and the motivations and barriers to action, the framework identifies seven population groups:

  • Positive Greens: “I think it’s important that I do as much as I can to limit my impact on the environment”;
  • Waste Watchers: “you should live life thinking about what you are doing and using”;
  • Concerned Consumers: “I think I do more than a lot of people. Still, going away is important, I’d find that hard to give up”;
  • Sideline Supporters: “I think climate change is a big problem for us. I know I don’t think much about how much water or electricity I use, and I forget to turn things off. I’d like to do a bit more”;
  • Cautious Participants: “I do a couple of things to help the environment. I’d really like to do more, well as long as I saw others were”;
  • Stalled Starters: “I don’t know much about climate change. I can’t afford a car so I use public transport”;
  • Honestly Disengaged: “Maybe there’ll be an environmental disaster, maybe not. Makes no difference to me, I’m just living life the way I want to”.

The willingness and ability to act of each group is assessed, as well as the potential to do more and the types of measures most likely to encourage action.

For selected headline behaviours, the framework goes on to analyse why people are acting or not, through four areas of influence:

  • What others are doing is key;
  • Skills and ability are more important than understanding;
  • What’s in it for me is important;
  • ‘It just makes sense’ to act, though making a difference matters.

How best to achieve change

Drawing together the strands of this analysis, the framework offers best practice principles for delivering change under three groupings:

  • We will if you will: make the right choices easier; leading by example and consistency are core foundations;
  • Start where people are: encourage people to see sustainable lifestyles differently;
  • No single solution: multiple measures at multiple levels are needed.

The Centre of Expertise on Influencing Behaviours

The Centre of Expertise on Influencing Behaviours works to build and review a coherent evidence base, develop small scale pilots and provide advice, support, and tools on best practice for influencing behaviour. Over the past 3 years the evidence base has particularly focused on understanding how to encourage sustainable behaviours and identifying key insights on the barriers and motivations to action.

The centre’s research includes piloting and testing innovative approaches ranging from small-scale piloting projects, through the Action Based Research programme, to the larger scale projects within the Greener Living Fund which expand on tried and tested approaches to encourage more sustainable behaviours.

The centre will shortly be publishing supplementary sets of slides covering best practice in developing communications to influence behaviour, evaluation of impact and other areas.

Further reading

  • Influencing behaviours: Defra webpage providing downloads of the framework and supporting and earlier documents.

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