Good life of the good person is only possible in a good society, said Professor Tim Jackson at the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group (SLRG) dissemination conference on ‘Sustainable Living: myths, meanings and realities’ held in London on 3 June 2014.
Building on over a decade of research, the conference synthesised the lessons from the group’s work on developing new understandings of the processes which lead to changes in people’s lifestyles, behaviours and practices and offered evidence-based advice to policy-makers hoping to build and nurture more sustainable ways of living.
The event kicked off with a welcome by Professor Tim Jackson (Director, SLRG).
In her introduction, Zoe Donkin from Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) identified the SLRG as an excellent model of government working in partnership with the academia.
The day was structured into four sessions under the following themes:
- Exploring transition
- The role of community
- Challenges and opportunities
Professor Bas Verplanken (Professor of Social Psychology, University of Bath) spoke on Habits, Attitudes and Behaviours in Transition (HABiT) project. Life course transitions such as moving to a new home could provide a window of opportunity for effective interventions for sustainable behaviour change. When this study delivered an intervention to a group of participants who had recently moved house, there was a small but statistically significant increase in self-reported sustainable behaviour with the window of opportunity lasting three months after moving house. Because of the small effect size, blank roll-outs are not recommended but locations in which many people going through life course transitions (e.g. newly built residential areas) tend to offer opportunities for such interventions.
Dr Kate Burningham (Senior Lecturer in Sociology of the Environment, University of Surrey) spoke on Exploring Lifestyle Changes in Transition (ELiCiT) project. This study explored the effect of two household transitions – having a first child and retirement – on sustainable consumption. It found that life course transitions are a fluid process of continuing shifts and readjustments within which everyday practices undergo change in multiple ways. Interventions for sustainable living should account for the multiplicity and nature of household transitions and the significance of family relationships and concerns in informing what people do. The participants’ understandings of what constitutes a sustainable lifestyle were varied and not necessarily perceived as being related to environmental sustainability. Potential points of intervention include already existing information and support sources (e.g. parental support groups) and their own social networks and hubs.
The role of community
This session comprised four presentations, the first three being:
- Sustainable living in remote rural Scotland | Emily Creamer (University of Edinburgh)
- Civil society roles in transition | Rachel Durrant (University of Sussex)
- Resilience in sustainable food strategies | Dr Rebecca White (University of Sussex)
Professor Andy Stirling (Professor of Science and Technology Policy, University of Sussex) spoke on ‘Control and transformation in sustainable lifestyles’. Referring to the findings of the second (‘transition’) and third (‘resilience’) projects above, he focused on some general implications for thinking about policy making for transformative change in infrastructures and practices in order to achieve demanding sustainability goals in the food sector. A cross-cutting outcome of these projects is the elaboration of a new framework for thinking (and acting) to enable transformation towards sustainability. He presented a framework that summarises the relationships between four ‘necessary but insufficient’ properties of sustainability, as functions of different permutations of shock and stress, control and response.
Challenges and opportunities
Invited guest speaker Dr Helga Dittmar (Reader in Psychology, University of Sussex) spoke on ‘The limits of materialism: impacts on wellbeing and the environment’, focusing on the link between materialistic value orientation (MVO) and wellbeing. MVO is the endorsement of values, goals and beliefs that centre on collecting money and possessions to convey status and image. There exists strong research evidence that people with stronger MVO experience lower wellbeing and show less environmentally friendly attitudes and behaviours and the same is true for children. Research also shows that materialism undermines children’s learning and school performance.
Ian Christie (Research Coordinator, SLRG) spoke on ‘Policy dialogues in sustainable living’. In the context of growing interest among policy communities in policy evaluation and in the relationship between research-based evidence and the policy development process, this project has explored issues concerning the relationship between research and policy development, adopting a methodology based on in-depth interviews with expert informants. Reinforcing the message from the literature on research-policy interactions, the study found that there are no ‘golden threads’ from evidence to readily identifiable policy impacts within a clear cycle of policy development. Rather, the focus should be on the fields of influence for research and the importance of multiple contexts and uses of evidence. These factors need to be reflected in new approaches to research-policy dialogue and relationships.
Dr Steve Sorrell (University of Sussex) spoke on ‘The rebound effect: measurement and response’.
Professor Tim Jackson, speaking on ‘Sustainable living: myths, meanings and realities’, synthesised the day’s presentations.
Led by Professor Jackson, a panel discussion on ‘Foundations for sustainable living’ followed with a panel comprising Dr Helga Dittmar, Mike Barry (Marks & Spencer), Lee Davies (Defra) and Graham Smith (University of Westminster).
In closing remarks, Jonathan Tillson (Defra) focused on the strategic relationship between policymakers and researchers, highlighting the key benefits of the Research Group approach, namely linking research to policy thinking, strategic investment and impact generation.
The Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group (SLRG) aims to develop understandings of the processes which lead to changes in people’s lifestyles, behaviours and practices and also to offer evidence-based advice to policy-makers about realistic strategies to encourage more sustainable lifestyles. Moreover, it strives for building capacity for research in sustainable lifestyles amongst academics, young researchers, practitioners, and user communities.
The group’s research portfolio comprises around a dozen projects within four main research clusters:
- Community | Sustainable Living in Remote Rural Scotland, Resilience and Sustainable Lifestyles, Civil society in sustainability transitions of food systems
- Economy | Mapping rebound effects from sustainable behaviours, Price Responsiveness of Demand
- Change processes | The HABIT project, Exploring Lifestyle Change in Transition (ELiCiT), Children and the Environment
- Synthesis | Directions of Policy Dialogue, Foundations for Sustainable Living
The SLRG research programme is coordinated from the University of Surrey (Centre for Environmental Strategy) under the direction of Professor Tim Jackson with Ian Christie as the Research Coordinator. Its partners include the University of Bath, Edinburgh University, the University of Sussex, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Brunel University and it also works closely with non-academic partners including Peterborough City Council, the RSA and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The group receives core funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Scottish Government and additional funding for individual projects from the European Commission and the ESRC.
- Photographs by Asitha Jayawardena
- This write up is extensively based on the conference booklet and the presentations
Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group (SLRG)http://www.sustainablelifestyles.ac.uk/
Centre for Environmental Strategy http://www.surrey.ac.uk/ces/ | @CES_Surrey
PASSAGE | Prosperity and Sustainability in the Green Economy http://www.prosperitas.org.uk/ | @ProfTimJackson
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-environment-food-rural-affairs
The Sustainable Development Research Network (SDRN) http://sd-research.org.uk/ | @PSI_SDRN
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