Turning on nudge tactics to turn off our bad energy behaviour habits

Researchers from universities across the EU are working together on a major new project to help policy-makers meet ambitious green targets by encouraging people to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.

Blending economics with psychology, the researchers from across member states, including in our Department of Economics, hope to use behavioural economics to help people become greener.

The EU has set ambitious climate and energy targets for 2020, including a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990s levels, a rise in the share of EU energy consumption produced by renewables, and a 20 per cent improvement in overall energy efficiency.

By studying citizens’ everyday habits, the outcome of this new research will include a set of recommendations for policy and practice.

Professor Michael Finus, Chair of Environmental Economics, explained: “Most of environmental economics research on regulating pollution has looked at the production side. In this project, the focus is on the consumption side, understanding what drives people to behave in environmentally-friendly ways, considering a wide range of variables, including those outside the realm of economics, like social norms, group identity and the creation and spread of lifestyles.”

The new GLAMURS Project – 'Green Lifestyles, Alternative Models & Upscaling Regional Sustainability' – comprises 11 European research institutions and about 50 researchers, all coordinated by the Environmental Psychology Group from the University of La Coruña, Spain.

In particular, it will look at how work-leisure balance and leisure options, household energy usage, travel patterns, food consumption, construction and housing and the reliance of manufactured goods can all impact on green lifestyle choices.

Co-researcher Dr Lucy O’Shea, also from the Department of Economics, said: “The project is novel in that it brings together psychologists and economists whose traditional approaches to decision-making about the environment will together inform a new and integrated approach to the study of environmentally sustainable behaviours and how to promote them.

“Certain policies may be more effective than other depending on where they are targeted, since certain choices may ‘lock’ individuals into a particular consumption/activity path. For example, if policies promote environmentally-sustainable housing, energy consumption can be indirectly reduced with little effort on the part of the individual.”

The Bath team also comprises Dr Sunčica Vujić and Dr Christian Gross, working on empirical issues, and Professor Shasi Nandeibam and Dr Paolo Zeppini focusing on theoretical modelling issues.

Since the influential book ‘Nudge’ was launched in 2008, politicians around the world have looked towards behavioural economics as a mechanism to meet policy targets. In 2010, the coalition government set up its own behavioural insights team as part of the Cabinet Office – otherwise known as the ‘Nudge Unit’ – to analyse the likely effectiveness of policy interventions.

Find out more

Department to be part of green lifestyles and sustainability consortium - March 2014


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