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Barriers and motivators for sustainable lifestyles: An exploratory analysis
The paper looks at the barriers to a ‘green’ lifestyle and highlights areas of potential. Views from the public were sought. The paper concludes that ‘green’ lifestyles will only be taken up if people are willing to do so and it won’t reduce their quality of life.
- A desirable alternative to encourage people to change their lifestyles is needed; otherwise initiatives may be seen as an attempt to remove lifestyle necessities.
- The green lifestyle needs to be 'normalised' as there are negative connotations in relation to 'environmental types'. Environmentalism has an image of being backwards and being about denial. Therefore the alternatives must sell sustainable lifestyles as desirable. They must maintain quality of life and offer lifestyle solutions as social markers as well as a need for fulfillers.
- People will generally try to find a justification for their inaction. One motivator may be the perception that everyone is taking responsibility.
- There is a need to give feedback to show the positive effects. This is helpful if visualised i.e. more people prefer paper recycling as they can visualise deforestation.
- Convenience is a big factor in motivating people to take action.
- Trust in those who should be promoting lifestyle changes is a motivator - at present there seems to be little trust for the government or businesses who are seen as not being interested or trustworthy.
- Image/gender was also important as men were found to view energy saving actions such as hanging out the washing as effeminate; so they would rather buy an energy saving device than use less energy through behavioural patterns.
- Cost was also seen as a motivating factor e.g. organic food was seen as too expensive by some groups. However London groups disliked the congestion charge but appeared to accept it as inevitable.
- Feedback on how other schemes have been successful can clarify and reassure that people small contribution can make a big difference.
- Fashion/Trend: To promote sustainability as a desirable commodity it needs to be promoted as forward thinking, follow trends and be responsive to fashion. A variety of choices to engage the bulk of consumers also need to be provided.
Experiences: What does/doesn't work?
- Perceptions are also important. Those who did not use public transport in London viewed it as unsafe, dirty, old-fashioned and over-crowded.
- Information is not that effective on its own. People receive it from the media, place of work and their local environment. Environmental information comes and goes leaving individuals uncertain to which issues are more important.
- There seems to be a problem of information overload. Members of the public often conclude that there simply seems no point in being concerned as the issue is too large to deal with on an individual level. Conflicting information and unclear messages leave the public uncertain about what actions they should take.
- Few people in a focus group recognised the Government's 'Are you doing your bit?' campaign, while those few who did thought it patronising.
- Lack of trust: a perception that no one agency is responsible for sustainability issues and a feeling that government and business are not interested or trustworthy.
- Any sustainable product or behaviour that is perceived to be expensive, time-consuming or complicated will deter the majority of individuals from taking it up.
- Therefore any sustainable alternative that is cheaper, more efficient and convenient may encourage use, regardless of social or environmental concerns.
'Barriers and Motivators for sustainable lifestyles: An exploratory analysis'.
Dr Tracey Bedford
Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Westminster, London.