EU project nudging people towards a greener future

Researchers from across the EU will meet at the University this week to debate how behavioural economics, so called ‘nudge’ tactics, can be used to promote greener living and lifestyles among individuals.

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

Helping to meet binding targets

In order to meet ambitious targets, radical changes are required across member states, including dramatic shifts in individual energy consumption. To achieve this, the researchers involved in the pan-EU project ‘Green Lifestyles, Alternative Models & Upscaling Regional Sustainability’ (GLAMURS) argue policy makers needs a new, bottom-up approach to address green policies.

How can consumers be 'nudged' towards more environmentally friendly behaviour? (Credit: NASA)

In advance of the event which takes place in Bath over three days, Wednesday 7 - Friday 9 October, Chair of Environmental Economics and Head of the Department of Economics, Professor Michael Finus, said: “This GLAMURS project is different from many others in that it does not aim to manage environmental sustainability using a top-down approach like governmental or supranational interventions.

“Instead, it looks at a bottom-up approach, one initiated by people and local communities. It is one of the very few projects that truly integrates approaches from economics and major insights from psychology and, as such, is breaking new ground.”

A nudge in the right direction?

Since the influential book ‘Nudge’ was published in 2008, politicians around the world have looked towards behavioural economics as a mechanism to meet policy targets. In 2010, the then 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.

The GLAMURS project involves 11 European research institutions and about 50 researchers, all coordinated by the Environmental Psychology Group from the University of La Coruña, Spain. It is testing a range of factors that influences people’s green credentials and how seemingly small individual changes, for instance switching off lights in the house or turning down a thermostat, can bring out significant results overall.

Project coordinator from the University of La Coruña, Professor Ricardo García-Mira, added: “This project is considering what factors influence our decisions to make small lifestyle changes that collectively will have an important impact on the future of the planet. In order to transition to a greener society and greener economy, a greater appreciation the economic, psychology and social influences on our behaviour is essential.”

GLAMURS began in January 2014 and will report in December 2016, when researchers hope recommendations can be used to influence policy and practice.

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

According to the latest REF2014, our research in this area was judged to be sixth nationally in terms of grade point average. 84 per cent of our social policy research impact was also judged to be 'world leading'.

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