Understanding and Transforming Behaviour is Key to Meeting Ireland’s Sustainability Challenges

Jun 01 2017 Posted: 15:13 IST

The NUI Galway-led ENERGISE (European Network for Research, Good Practice and Innovation for Sustainable Energy) hosted a two-day workshop of international sustainability experts in Dublin this week 1-2 June, during European Sustainable Development Week.

The three-year Horizon 2020 funded ENERGISE programme, is an innovative pan-European research initiative setup to achieve a greater scientific understanding of the social and cultural influences on energy consumption. The initiative develops, tests and assesses options for a bottom-up transformation of energy use in households and communities across Europe.

As part of this two-day event, the Consumption Environment Sustainability (CONSENSUS) research team launched its report CONSENSUS II: Segmentation, Experimentation and Biographies for Sustainability.

Findings from the Consensus II Report:

  • More sustainable household consumption in Ireland, and by association sustainable production, is essential if the UN Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved.
  • Targeted responses are needed as consumption varies by age, gender, income and education.
  • Travel behaviour in the period between 20 to 30 years old is particularly dynamic and provides considerable opportunities for coordinated interventions. Adopting a life-course approach would represent a major step change in transport policy.
  • Big changes are possible - water use from washing was reduced by 47%, food waste reduced by 28% and 100% of the remaining waste being composted with no food waste sent to landfill.
  • A coordinated and systematic approach by governments, private companies and civil society is required to support sustainable consumption, from everyday habitual behaviours to the occasional or once-off purchases.
  • The history of increasing structural ‘lock in’ regarding car use in Ireland serves to caution against a sole focus on changing individual behaviour. Broader changes to transport infrastructure, policies and traffic laws are also urgently needed to achieve a more sustainable transport system.

The CONSENSUS project develops and tests novel ways to better understand and respond to the complex challenges created by household consumption such as lifestyle segmentation, mobility biographies and home-based living laboratories. It is funded through the Environmental Protection Agency’s sustainability research programme, led by Professor Anna Davies from Trinity College Dublin, in collaboration with Dr Frances Fahy from
NUI Galway and Professor Henrike Rau from Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. 

In response to their findings, Director General of the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr Laura Burke, said: “Changing our behaviour is one of the greatest challenges we face in making the transition to a low carbon and resource efficient future. In this report, the CONSENSUS team shows how we can better understand our current behaviour and how we can start to redirect it onto a more sustainable pathway. We are often unaware that many of our everyday activities damage the environment and this project demonstrates that small actions can make a big difference.”

Commenting on the findings of the report, Dr Frances Fahy, Head of the Discipline of Geography at NUI Galway, said: “On the basis of this exciting study, our NUI Galway based research team recommends that a tailored policy approach to different groups of individuals that may be more successful at eliciting pro-environmental behaviour change than general ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy interventions. The typology tools constructed in the CONSENSUS II study create a refined, targeted approach to understanding the nuances of consumption behaviours.”

To read the full CONSENSUS II: Segmentation, Experimentation and Biographies for Sustainability report, visit: http://www.epa.ie/researchandeducation/research/researchpublications/researchreports/research205.html


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