New CONSENSUS report yields clues to meeting sustainability challenges

1 June 2017

A comprehensive new report analysing consumption practices and the way we live shows that understanding and transforming behaviour will be the key to meeting Ireland’s sustainability changes. Tailored policy approaches are required, as consumption varies by age, gender, and socio-economic background -- but research confirms huge gains are possible in reducing water use and waste.

Contributing to European Sustainable Development Week (ESDW) the CONSENSUS research team, funded through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Research Programme 2014 – 2020 and led by Professor of Georgraphy, Environment and Society at Trinity College Dublin, Anna Davies, in collaboration with Dr Frances Fahy from National University of Ireland Galway and Professor Henrike Rau from Ludwig-Maximilian University, is launching its report: CONSENSUS II: Segmentation, Experimentation and Biographies for Sustainability at a gathering of international sustainability experts at the National University of Ireland Offices in Dublin.

The CONSENSUS project developed and tested novel ways to better understand and respond to the complex challenges created by household consumption: lifestyle segmentation, mobility biographies and home-based living laboratories (HOMELABS).

Professor Anna Davies said: “Our research provides clear insights into how and why we consume and, importantly, how our consumption can be changed to reduce the impact on the environment while supporting social and economic innovation.”

“The CONSENSUS research project formed the foundation for major successes in attaining European funding to progress our ideas, indicating how Irish researchers are leading the way with novel approaches for transforming domestic consumption onto more sustainable pathways.”

Pictured at the launch are, (l to r): Michael O’Cinneide, Director, EPA, Professor Anna Davies, Trinity, Dr Frances Fahy, NUIG, Dr Dorothy Stewart, EPA, Professor Henrike Rau, Munich, Mary-Jo Lavelle, NUIG.

In response to their findings Director General of the EPA, 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.”

HIGH LEVEL FINDINGS:

  • More action is needed if the UN Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved.
  • Targeted action is needed as consumption varies by age, gender, income & education
  • Travel behaviour in the period between 20 and 30 years old is particularly dynamic and provides considerable opportunities for coordinated interventions
  • Big changes are possible - water use from washing was reduced by 47%; food waste reduced by 28% with zero waste to landfill in CONSENSUS HOMELABS research 

FURTHER FINDINGS – GENERAL

UNDERSTANDING BEHAVIOUR:

SEGMENTING FOR SUSTAINABILITY

  • A tailored policy approach to different groups of individuals will be more successful at eliciting pro-environmental behaviour change
  • Typologies of behaviour, like those developed in CONSENSUS, are needed to identify tailored policy responses:
  • Different responses are need for habitual and occasional consumption practices.
  • Key differences were observed for socio-demographic variables including age, gender, income, and education.

MOBILITY BIOGRAPHIES

  • Adopting a life-course approach would represent a major step change in transport policy
  • Major life events (such as moving home, starting college or changing jobs) affect people’s travel habits and provide windows of opportunity for interventions
  • Certain mobility milestones such as getting a driving licence or buying a car or bike are pivotal points for policy intervention around sustainable transport behaviour.
  • Car use has become increasingly entrenched over time through investment in road infrastructure and pro-car policies and laws.  
  • Broader changes to transport infrastructure, policies and traffic laws are urgently needed to achieve a more sustainable transport system.

TRANSFORMING BEHAVIOUR:

EATING HOMELABS (HOMELABS are trials of interventions with households)

  • Technology must be supported by appropriate regulatory and educational interventions
  • Face-to face and peer information transfer remain important drivers of behaviour
  • Recalibrating default options and choice editing are useful tools for change.
  • Improved food labelling for sustainability must be coordinated with other information

WASHING HOMELABS

  • Diversity - washing practices vary widely from individual to individual
  • Targets - for water use were drivers of change but justification and trust is key
  • Knowledge - There is low understanding of water use for washing
  • Sustainable products must work to persuade people to use them longterm
  • Just Try it! -Participants were surprised how easy some practice changes were to make

Media Contact

Thomas Deane, Press Officer for the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science | deaneth@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 4685

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