How do we enable people to use their living, working and playing spaces more sustainably and in better ways?

How do we get people to better understand environmental impacts? How do we change perceptions that sustainable living is more ‘expensive’?

3.1 Influencing behaviour change


How can we successfully change behaviour around sustainable living in our risk-averse culture? How do we encourage understanding of the benefits of natural resources amid individuals’ fears of cost and inconvenience? We need to break through barriers and silos preventing corporate, public sector and community-led initiatives. People, especially children, need to be more engaged with what local nature can offer.

Why it matters

In Europe we consume 30% more natural resources than the Earth can replenish. A study finds that while 95% of people have awareness of ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’, there’s a significant gap where this knowledge does not translate into action. A quarter of people feel that ‘climate change’ is a remote concern and see the environment as low priority compared with other issues in their life (Centre for Expertise on Influencing Behaviours, 2011).

People’s behaviour is strongly attached to knowledge of facilities and services, time and convenience, as well as certain social stigmas such as buying second-hand goods. Safety issues such as traffic and ‘stranger danger’ are discouraging recreation outdoors. (Centre for Expertise on Influencing Behaviours, 2011).


3.2 Ownership and responsibility of space


Sustainable living is often hampered by a lack of clarity on ownership and permissions for spaces. Lack of neighbourhood ownership leads to disconnection, anti-social use and inadequate care. We need to place value on urban spaces according to users not owners. Centralised management systems of these spaces are often influenced by big corporates who make decisions which aren’t always in community interests.

Why it matters

Much of UK green space is protected by national and international law, but there’s lack of protection for green spaces (particularly urban) with no formal designation, and many local authorities are considering selling or transferring management of parks and green spaces (Wallis, 2015).

Local authority funding for green spaces has reduced by 40%, which isn’t enough for maintaining facilities and engaging local people. It’s predicted there’ll be a 60% decline in spending on parks by 2020. (Wallis, 2015).


3.3 Valuing waste


How can we deal with our ‘waste’ better? Disposal is the convenient option but it puts pressure on natural resources. However, the right infrastructure isn’t in place to make it easier to recirculate resources, while recycling guidelines are complicated. It’s costly to deal with unsorted recyclable waste; too much waste is burned and too much food is wasted.

Non-biodegradable plastic is over-used, particularly with drinks bottles, but there’s a lack of non-plastic public water access.

Why it matters

177 million tonnes of waste are generated every year in England. Plastic is a particular culprit: only 20% is recycled, sending eight million tonnes into the ocean. It’s estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic waste weight in the oceans than fish (DEFRA, 2015). Out of the 2.2 million tonnes of plastic used in the UK in 2014, only 32% was recycled. Every day, seven million coffee cups are thrown away, with only 2% being recycled and the rest ending up in landfill or the environment (Commons Select Committee, 2017).

Each year the average UK family could be saving £680 by preventing food waste (Green Alliance, 2012). A survey by PwC has found that over half of UK consumers are willing to pay between 10-25% more for goods up to £100, to account for their sustainable impact (Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 2008).

A main factor preventing households recycling leftover food is a lack of relevant bins and collection services (Green Alliance, 2012). 63% of households are confused by the different ways each council collects waste, and 43% are unsure which days each bin is collected (Smithers, 2016). In 2014-15, councils were unable to recycle over 300,000 tonnes of waste, an increase of 84% on the previous year, and 97% of this rejected waste is incinerated or taken to landfill (BBC, 2016).


3.4 Affordable access to food


How can we create more affordable access to food? Local, sustainable and ethical food is perceived as more expensive, marginalising many consumers who usually put cost and convenience as their prime consideration.

A local economy dominated by supermarkets makes it hard for local food suppliers to get a foothold. Large-scale industrial farming places emphasis on quantity rather than quality; while centralised food production means lack of community involvement.

There’s often a disconnection to where food comes from, but an increased expectation for out-of-season products.

Why it matters

£1 in every £6 in the poorest 20% of households is spent on food, compared with £1 in every £9 on average (Maslen et al, 2013). A study found that 60% of people perceive organic food products as ‘expensive’, while 35% would buy more if they were more affordable. Only 15% of adults in the UK choose organic foods – the benefits of which are more likely to be understood by higher income group consumers (YouGov, 2013).

65% of the money spent on food locally will be kept within the community, compared with 40% when brought from chain supermarkets (Bristol Food Policy Council). People’s food choices are mainly determined by availability, accessibility and affordability. Studies find there is generally little understanding of the impacts of food purchases and food waste (Centre for Expertise on Influencing Behaviours, 2011).



Other 2017 Challenge themes

Improve health and wellbeing
Support the local economy
Enhance the natural environment


Innovate UK

The UK's innovation agency. Innovate UK funds and supports science and technology innovations that will grow the UK economy.


Northumbrian Water aims to be the national leader in the provision of sustainable water and waste water services.