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Changing the layout and design of urban spaces can help to reduce energy use

05 June 2018

Targeting the environmental conditions in which people live, rather than their energy use itself, may be a more effective way of encouraging people to use less energy.

That is one of the central recommendations from the new British Psychological Society report ‘Changing behaviour: Energy consumption’ that is launched today, World Environment Day.

This new paper focuses on the contribution of energy consumption to climate change, one of the major threats faced by the world, and the ways in which psychological thought and evidence can be used to encourage people to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviours.

Previous initiatives in this area have directly targeted people with information on the harmful environmental impact of their behaviours, but the new report suggests that it is equally important to address the conditions that drive people to high energy and carbon consumption lifestyles.  

Professor David Uzzell, from the University of Surrey and author of the report, said:

“Climate change is the major threat facing our world today, and our energy consumption is the principal contributor. Psychology can contribute to tackling the problem of climate change with behaviour change initiatives, both by educating people as to the consequences of their energy use and also encouraging authorities to design spaces which discourage the overconsumption of energy.” 

Examples of this include offices, where windows may be sealed thereby making air conditioning necessary or large open-plan offices where lights must be on all day because desks are so far from the windows. Likewise, the planning of urban spaces, where the location of amenities (such as out of town superstores) and a lack of public transport provision may encourage or require excessive car use.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Behaviour change programmes need to make sense to the public and work with the realities of people’s everyday lives.
  • Design programmes which are tailored to the needs and constraints of different audiences at different stages of their lives.
  • Understanding and changing the conditions in which people live may be more effective than directly targeting their immediate environmental behaviours.
  • Involve people in energy reduction programmes and provide them with feedback on their efforts as this is not only rewarding but also reinforcing. They will then formulate achievable goals, acquire a sense of achievement and develop their skills and persuade others.
  • Focus on environmentally significant actions (eg buying energy efficient appliances) rather than environmentally convenient ones.
  • Community-centred efforts that use real-life social networks, the encouragement of socially shared norms and the display of public commitment by ‘adopters’ have shown to be powerful drivers for change.

Professor Uzzell added:

“Psychologists have strategies and methods based on decades of research in the area of influence, persuasion and behaviour change that can inform and guide policy interventions. Although psychologists are experts in understanding individuals’ behaviours, they also have much to offer in providing advice which can influence those societal conditions which can move us in the direction of more low-carbon lifestyles.”

You can read 'Changing behaviour: Energy consumption' by clicking here.


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