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Creating a sustainable future is about changing ‘habits’, not minds

Encouraging sustainable behaviours may not be a matter of rational persuasion. Guest author Barbara Axt attends a stimulating debate at the British Library in London.

The current strategy of providing information and incentives to people in the hope they will individually change their behaviours towards a more sustainable lifestyle is flawed, said researchers of the Sustainable Behaviours Research Groups, in an event held by the Economical and Social Research Council, ESRC. This Tuesday, during a debate at the British Library in London, they discussed better ways that policies could be used to create sustainable behaviours.

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Encouraging sustainable behaviours may not be a matter of rational persuasion. Guest author Barbara Axt attends a stimulating debate at the British Library in London.

The current strategy of providing information and incentives to people in the hope they will individually change their behaviours towards a more sustainable lifestyle is flawed, said researchers of the Sustainable Behaviours Research Groups, in an event held by the Economical and Social Research Council, ESRC. This Tuesday, during a debate at the British Library in London, they discussed better ways that policies could be used to create sustainable behaviours.

Changing the way society is organised and establishing new practices may be more effective than addressing individuals, according to Professor Dale Southerton, director of the Sustainable Practices Research Groups at the University of Manchester. Focusing on people at life changing moments, when they are moving houses or starting a family, can also see them more receptive to changing habits, said Ian Christie of the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey. Both speakers emphasised that governments should embrace terms such as “social engineering,” and stop being apologetic about creating behaviour change.

Professor Southerton, the first speaker of the evening, started by questioning the idea that if you give people information and incentives, they’ll change their habits.”The idea of the sovereign individual, making individual choices based on rational arguments, and acting with complete free will, is flawed”, he said. “If we want to change behaviour we have to think how everyday practices are socially organised and structured”.

In 1970, only 3% of the houses in the UK had a freezer, he noted. In 1999, it was 96%. During this time, a whole industry has been created around the freezer, with frozen foods, convenience foods, and so on. Today, our lives are organised in a way that it is harder to buy fresh produce and cook fresh meals every day. “Considering that fridges and freezers are responsible for 25% of the UK domestic consumption of energy, not having a freezer would be a sustainable behaviour. However, it’s not easy for an individual to make this choice”, he noted. “Changing habits against social pressures is not easy. That’s why policies should focus on practices, not individuals”.

He also mentioned the ‘Cool Biz’ initiative in Japan, which since 2005 has been saving energy on summer by encouraging offices to set the air conditioning temperature on 28 degrees C while workers dress in short sleeved shirts, no suits or ties. Today, more than half the offices in Japan have joined Cool Biz. “But in the beginning, no one knew if people would accept it and change the way they dressed, or not”, he observed. “That is important about changing practices: people are unpredictable”.

His presentation was followed by writer and policymaker Ian Christie, who observed that behaviours are influenced by a combination of nine factors. These included the emotional estate of the person, who provides information, how other people are behaving, how good they feel about that behaviour and if there is any sub-conscious priming. “We rely too much on providing information to people and believing people are making economically rational decisions“, Christie said.

In an analysis of pro-environmental behaviour, “at least 80% of the factors influencing behaviour did not result from knowledge or awareness“, according to the Mindspace report, published in 2010 by the Cabinet Office and the Institute for Government. The report investigates the “more automatic or context-based drivers of behaviour, including the surrounding ‘choice environment’“.

Ian Christie mentioned that the people who are making an effort to change habits report satisfaction, but also tension – and that in lots of cases the habits and practices are too attached to people’s identities, like for example driving or eating meat. “In the US, people don’t want to be seen as green consumers, when their neighbours are not”, he added. “However, these are at least the ones trying to change habits. The ones we should worry most about are the ones who are not even concerned”. According to a 2011 research of Kantar Media, there are 22% of adults in Great Britain, who think “the effects of climate change are too far in the future to worry me“.

Another factor to have in mind is the idea of “moments of change” – those points of discontinuity in people’s lives, such as the start of a family, retirement or a house move – that work as windows of opportunity for behaviour change. This is when individuals reflect on their lifestyle and are more likely to change habits and behaviours related to energy use, travel and purchase of consumer goods.

Christie added that we can’t expect green technologies to solve the problem of unsustainable lifestyles, hence the importance of promoting behaviour change.

Both speakers commented on the reluctance by government and policy makers to address the issue openly. “There is difficulty in governments to accept they want to create behaviour change”, said Christie.

They struggle to say the word ‘regulation’, let alone ‘social engineering’“, commented Southerton. “Should governments legislate on habits? Yes, social engineering happens all the time,” he observed, adding that efforts to change habits are done regularly by private players, and that the government shouldn’t be apologetic about doing the same. “It is a neoliberal idea that climate change is a problem of sovereign individuals”.

Some habits that are easy to change – always recycling what you can rather than throwing it away, which 50% of households in Britain do.  Switching to renewable energy is another way of reducing the damage from turning on those lights and heaters on long cold dark winter nights.

Talking to your IFA, if you have one, about where your money is invested takes five minutes and will allow you to make an informed choice about what future you want your money to build.  If you don’t have an IFA simply use our form and we’ll connect you with an expert in providing sustainable investment advice.

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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