We are the UK Government’s independent adviser on sustainable development. Through advocacy, advice and
appraisal, we help put sustainable development at the heart of Government policy

Making sustainable living easier

21 February 2011

"Convey what sustainable lifestyles are about and how great it is to live them. ... It has got to be about what we gain, not what we give up." United Nations Environment Programme (2010)

An increasing number of us recycle, insulate our lofts and choose more 'green' products but we are far from living lives that are 'sustainable' for future generations. It’s a well quoted statistic but still a powerful one – if the whole world consumed as we do in the UK we would need three planets to sustain everyone. The economic, environmental and social consequences for people and the planet from this excessive and unequal resource use make the goal of sustainable lives not a 'nice to have' some day but an essential priority for governments right now.

Our report Making Sustainable Lives Easier: A Priority for Governments, Business and Society gives advice to the UK Government and the devolved administration in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland on how governments can build incentives and infrastructure that make sustainable choices the easy choices.

The increasing number of people who try to 'do the right thing' often find themselves swimming against the tide – their behaviour doesn't fit society's norms. It is difficult to make sustainable choices easily when we live in poorly insulated homes, public and active travel is difficult and expensive and are surrounded by unhealthy food.

Behaviour change research shows that governments need to use a range of interventions from regulations, economic incentives and business standards to campaigns and information. A one-size-fits-all approach, which an emphasis on the UK Coalition Government's 'nudge' implies, is unlikely to be effective.

So what is getting in the way of this transformation? That's the question we asked over fifty government officials and experts from business, academia and NGOs. They identified a number of challenges for government to address.

The lack of a positive vision of what sustainable lives in the future might look like and a coherent set of policies that take us in one clear direction is a significant barrier. Our consumer society also makes it difficult to live sustainable lives.

We suggest using four key pillars to underpin policies for more sustainable lives:

  • A clear positive vision for sustainable lives that engages all players and is clear about the priorities for action to achieve the goal of sustainable lives.
  • Making it easy by providing a framework that uses the full spectrum of levers and incentives to 'enable' us to do the 'right thing' more easily.
  • Working with others through better collaboration and better partnerships between national and local governments, civil society organisations, businesses, communities and people themselves. They all play a vital role in the transition to sustainable lives.
  • Building capabilities and using evidence to create better understanding of what works in practice and using this knowledge in policy making.

Our report makes a number of recommendations to build governments’ capabilities, ensure better evaluation of behaviour change interventions and to develop cross government learning.

» Download Making Sustainable Lives Easier: A Priority for Governments, Business and Society

» Read more about our Sustainable Lives work

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