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  • 25th Jan 2023

New flagship report: How to build a Net Zero society

Download the full report

What will you have for breakfast? How will you commute to work? (Indeed, what is the impact of your career choice on the environment? And where’s your pension invested?) What will you wear? What holiday destination are you daydreaming of in that morning meeting? Or if you’re staying at home for the day, what appliances will you switch on? And when? What energy tariff are you on? How will you heat your home? And for how many of these decisions do you prioritise the environment?

Delivery of Net Zero isn’t just a technological or economic challenge. It represents and ultimately relies on social transformation. 

The Climate Change Committee highlights that a balanced pathway to Net Zero requires 62% of emissions cuts to be delivered through changes in human behaviour. More specifically, 53% is expected to be delivered through the adoption of green tech including heat pumps and electric vehicles (EVs) and 9% on further lifestyle changes including reduced car use, aviation, meat consumption and more flexible energy demand. And while the remaining 38% are classified as ‘supply side’ interventions related to technological issues such as energy generation, decarbonisation of heavy industry and aviation fuels, public opinion and action matters for the pace of investment and progress made over the coming years. 

Our new report takes this much-needed behavioural perspective of Net Zero, and provides a blueprint for decarbonising society. We provide our analysis of five sectors: communications and public engagement; domestic heat and power; transport; food; and material consumption and waste.

The good news is, people are supportive of this change.

Delivering Net Zero is not only a moral and legal obligation in the UK, and not only the biggest growth opportunity of the 21st century, but it’s also backed by a huge democratic mandate. Our new polling of 1000 UK adults shows that 9 in 10 want to make more sustainable choices in their lives.

But there’s more to do to enable people to change their behaviour. 9 in 10 find it hard to take action due to cost, convenience or knowledge barriers. That’s why nearly 9 in 10 also want to see stronger leadership from government and business, to make those green choices easier to adopt.

This report builds on several years’ research and dozens of BIT case studies across the domestic energy, transport, food and waste sectors. We conclude that, while public goodwill is there, many people are still focusing their efforts on the smaller things, like avoiding plastic packaging and turning off their lights. 

For the bigger steps we need to move towards, there is broad public acceptance, but barriers to action remain. 

  • Heat pumps, though a proven technological solution for most homes, remain expensive to buy, are unfamiliar to many, and take far more time and effort to install than a gas boiler replacement. That’s a real problem when you need a quick replacement after a boiler failure mid-winter. 
  • Electric cars continue to see near-exponential adoption, but they’re still the minority choice and don’t (yet) represent a good option for the majority of drivers who have less disposable income, only buy used cars, only have access to a single vehicle (which must therefore meet all their needs) and don’t have off-street parking to charge it overnight. 
  • We’re trapped within our ingrained norms of unsustainable material consumption and waste largely because we live in a world in which it’s more expensive and complicated to repair items than it is to replace them; products are designed with built-in obsolescence. The recycling system is complex and confusing; and greenwashing prevails over honest eco-labelling.
  • Diets, though easy to change in principle, face ingrained norms and retail environments filled with high-carbon choices. 

Figure 1. People’s willingness to take personal action

A multi-lever approach is therefore needed: Sound and purposeful public engagement, information provision and eco-labelling can enable consumers make  the greener choices they want. In parallel, big changes to the ‘choice architecture’ are needed to make those green choices cheap, easy, normal and the default option for everyone. That requires new, smarter ways of market regulation, infrastructure development, pricing, and much more. 

Even the more challenging policy issues  have surprisingly high public backing. In our report, we build on several years of research and dozens of BIT case studies to analyse the barriers and enablers to greener choices across domestic heat and power, transport, food, and material consumption. With this understanding, we present over 20 concrete policy recommendations, and dozens of ideas for businesses. We take a holistic, system-wide view, addressing the role of communications to inform consumer choice, but also upstream changes which radically alter the consumers’ choice environment at scale. One common thread throughout is that the public are surprisingly supportive of our suggestions – even on issues typically viewed as more contentious. 

Download the full report for in-depth analysis and research supporting these and many other recommendations for Government and businesses.

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What’s in our new sustainability report? 

  • Identifies the key behaviours – and their barriers – required for decarbonisation across the major emitting sectors of Energy, Transport, Food and Material Consumption. 
  • Almost 50 behavioural solutions – both big policy changes for policy-makers, and ‘nudges’ for public and private sector leaders
  • A new framework for thinking about transformative behaviour-change. We’re going well beyond the conventional focus on nudging individual action in discrete settings, expanding the behavioural lens to include the systemic changes required to combat climate change.
  • 20 case studies of BIT’s projects testing green interventions with partners across the public (e.g. HMG, French government, UAE’s Crown Prince Court, World Wildlife Forum) and private sector (e.g. Unilever, Tesco, Sky, Gumtree, Cogo)
  • Results from a new UK public poll on support for a range of green policies

Download the full report

 

Want to learn more? 

Download the full report

  • Attend – in-person or virtually – the official launch of the report, with a panel discussion and Q&A between, Toby Park, lead author and Head Energy and Sustainability at BIT, Ravi Gurumurthy, CEO of Nesta, an innovation charity, and TBC, at TIME DATE PLACE. 
  • Listen to our new podcast, discussing some of the key headlines from this new report here
  • Read other our reports of interest: Menu for Change (on green nudges for food), The Little Book of Green Nudges, Behaviour Change for Nature (on conservation) or Greening Pensions
  • Work with us: If you are from a national or local government, international organisation or a business and would like to work with us to develop and test behavioural solutions for your green challenge, contact us directly at info@bi.team. 
How could we work together? 

We could help you:

  • Understand people’s choices, behaviours and their drivers, using a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods
  • Develop behavioural solutions – changes to communications, products, services or policies – and strategies that encourage green behaviours 
  • Quantify the impact you’re having, running rapid large scale online or field experiments

Check out BIT Review 2021-2022 for case studies of our projects.

 

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