How long have you worked at the University and what does your role involve?
I've been working here for a couple of months now. My role is part of the Climate Action Team. The team is made of four dedicated roles and two academics who dedicate a small proportion of their time to the team. My focus is primarily on behaviour change. I'm a social psychologist by trade. I've been designing and delivering behaviour change programmes for 15-20 years however, behaviour change very quickly requires organisational change. It encompasses the buildings that we work and study in, and the organisational policies we work to. I end up being involved in a bit of everything.
What would you most like to achieve while you're at the University?
That's a simple one to answer: the ambitious net zero targets that the University has set. This was one of the things that attracted me to the role. Often when I've reviewed sustainability strategies for other organisations, I’ve thought that they’ve been insufficient to address the climate emergency. It’s a very real threat that has serious consequences for future generations, for our children and for our grandchildren. We need to take it seriously and the University of Bath’s plan does that. We’ve set net zero by 2030 for our scope one and two emissions, a 50% reduction in our scope three emissions by 2030 and then net zero for everything by 2040. We're going to have to make some dramatic changes to the way we operate as a university to achieve this. From flying significantly less, to meat consumption, to the way we build buildings, conduct research and procure equipment. This is a huge undertaking, so meeting the targets would feel like a remarkable achievement.
What are the most impactful individual changes people can make to help tackle climate change?
The average person's carbon footprint in the UK is between 11 and 13 tonnes. One of the big chunky ones is long-haul flights, which equates to about three to four tonnes depending on where you’re flying, so you can see that reducing flying could save around a third of your footprint straightaway. Second is reducing meat consumption, particularly red meat. Average meat consumption can also add up to about three or four tonnes. Lastly, and this is one that people think less of but has a massive impact, is where you have your pension and your investments. If your pension is with a regular pension fund, it is likely that as part of their portfolio they are going to be funding things like fossil fuel exploration, tobacco companies and arms companies. If you shift to a pension provider that invests more in positive things, like renewable energy, some research shows that can have the largest impact of all.
What are your top tips for adopting new habits?
I’ll give praise to one of our own academics, Bas Verplanken. He's known as Mr. Habits in psychology and he's done a lot of research that shows that to change a habit, and to have a new habit stick, you have to try and maintain the new habit for six weeks. Then it will become what psychologists call autonomous i.e. the behaviour happens automatically without you really thinking about it. It's hard work to change a habit, but if you try and embed that new habit and really stay focused on it for six weeks, that's the magic number. You'll see me design behaviour change programmes around that timeframe. I won't do things for two weeks at a time because it's not long enough, the behaviour will just revert.
Another interesting thing about habits is moments of change. It's good to try and get people to change their behaviour when their life is being disrupted anyway, and uni is lovely for that because coming to uni is a big disruption. Students are in a new place, they're going to have all sorts of new habits, new places to go shopping, new places to eat and drink, new ways to travel. It’s a great time to try and embed sustainable options rather than non-sustainable options. And each time they go into a new year, they typically move again providing more opportunities to embed new positive behaviours.
What piece of advice would you give to a student?
Regarding sustainability I would refer them to ‘materiality’ and the Pareto principle. These are management concepts that seek to focus on those issues that have the biggest impact, and that in any task that you seek to do, usually the first 20% of the effort will get you 80% of the effect that you're looking for. When you apply that to sustainability, focus on the actions that have the biggest impact. People sometimes go down rabbit holes, getting passionate about say the plastic lids on disposable coffee cups, but the biggest environmental impact in a takeaway coffee is the dairy so focus on that first. If you do the work to understand where the big impacts are, you might be surprised. A big part of my work through the year, and you'll see this visibly on campus if I get it right, will be in educating and helping people focus on the key big issues.
Who was your most influential teacher or educator and why?
Professor Tim Jackson. He wrote ‘Prosperity without growth’ and is an incredibly talented man. He is a radio playwright, an author, a brilliant communicator, and an all-round inspirational human being. ‘Prosperity without growth’ showed that infinite economic growth is simply not sustainable. The technological leap that we would require going forward to decouple carbon growth from economic growth sufficiently would be in the factor of something like 10,000 times the technological leap we made in going from the invention of steam engines to putting man on the moon. Technology will play a key role, but it’s unlikely to solve climate change by itself. Tim is advocating for steady state or low growth economies alongside redefining what prosperity means. This redefinition is a move away from infinite economic growth driven by hyper-consumerism underpinned by materialistic values. It’s a really tough conversation to have and something that's probably going to take us decades to do, but it’s a necessary shift.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
This is quite contrary to where I've ended up - a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force. I could fly a plane before I could drive a car. When I was younger, I held the record for the fastest ever solo time in the Royal Air Force, going solo after just four and a half hours training. The year I applied the RAF changed the acceptance criteria due to the increased G-forces that came with the new Eurofighter jet. Those changes ruled me out so that was that! I'm glad I've ended up where I am though, rather than involved in military campaigns.
When are you happiest?
That’s an easy one to answer because it's something I thought about recently. I have a 15-month-old daughter and when she laughs it melts my heart. It's such a joyful feeling.
If you could meet anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I’ve got two. Firstly, Barack Obama. I've just finished listening to his ‘Promised Land’ on audiobook. For 20 years I've been working for change in a direction that is the opposite to the way the world is going e.g. more consumerism, more carbon emissions, etc and that can feel hard. I found his hope and insight into change and how to achieve it over long periods of time really inspirational. There's pragmatism and wisdom in how he achieves change. The second is the Dalai Lama. I love the Buddhist simplicity of life. In terms of stripping out materialism driven consumerism, look no further. His musings when he goes into a supermarket and walks down the aisles and sees millions of things that he doesn't have and doesn't need, are both hilarious and insightful. His book, The Art of Happiness is one of my favourites. It offers beautiful insight on how to be happy, regardless of your context.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
The arc of change. From almost being a fighter pilot, to playing professional football, to Greenpeace activism stopping coal trains. I’ve had a very varied life, and I think that helps. I understand different perspectives, I get that people have very different worldviews because I've held a few different worldviews myself.