A new approach to sustainable living

Our Research and Innovation Specialist, Philippe Demougin, talks about what Side-by-Side are doing to encourage colleagues and customers to make sustainable life choices.

With COP26 coming up in Glasgow on 31 October, at Side-by-Side we decided this would be a good time to share some of the work we’ve been doing on sustainable living within Hafod’s St Mellons social housing estate in Cardiff.

To housing associations, like Hafod, the decarbonisation of its assets and housing stock is already a hot topic, with a lot of time and resource being spent on ‘getting it right’ to meet the Welsh Government’s target of net zero emissions by 2030.

What we don’t fully understand yet however, is how might we incentivise people to behave sustainably wherever possible, especially those in underserved communities.

This is important because according to the Carbon Literacy Project our behaviours are important in almost two thirds of all the necessary actions that we’ll need to take in our march towards becoming a net zero carbon society.

Unfortunately, however, behaviours are tricky and habits are sticky. People often behave in unpredictable ways and behavioural incentives can backfire or produce unintended outcomes.

Also, many of the existing sustainable behaviour change solutions are unrealistic for people living in underserved communities, who are often overlooked in the design of interventions:

“Sustainability discourses are shaped predominantly by the perspectives and interests of middle-class, tertiary-educated urban policy makers or environmentalists” (Beasy 2019).

So, rather than trying to force people to behave in certain ways, we at Side-by-Side are taking a different approach.

It starts with figuring out what currently works and what doesn’t, what experiences have people had with sustainable living and understanding their perceptions, attitudes and importantly, behaviours around sustainability.

We will then use these insights to co-create solutions with people that work for them, to overcome the challenges and barriers they face in their day-to-day lives.

We’ve compiled some useful tips and tricks that will guide our work in these communities and will encourage all of us to try out some new, more sustainable behaviours and to introduce new environmental habits.

We’ll explore some of these in a series of blog posts, looking at strategies for sustainable behaviour change, lessons learnt on what works and doesn’t work and sharing our approach.