Four pillars of sustainable behaviour change

Our Research and Innovation Specialist, Philippe Demougin, talks about the four areas that Side-by-Side will address with their work on sustainable living.

We’re currently in the midst of COP26 (the 26th Climate Change Conference) where world leaders are debating our next steps towards a global Climate Change agenda.

Given this focus, Side-by-Side (Hafod’s research and innovation unit) wanted to share some of the work we’ve been doing on developing a sustainable living programme within a social housing estate in St Mellons, Cardiff.

To do this, we know our first step must be to understand how people make decisions and why they behave in certain ways. If we can get a clear understanding of this, we should be able to know how to make sustainable choices more accessible to more people — especially those in low income communities.

We reviewed hundreds of case studies that explored different behaviours change strategies and interventions. Through this, we identified four areas at which to target the decision-making process. These are the four pillars of behaviour change in our pathway towards sustainable living.

Pillar 1 — Convenience: ‘make the sustainable choice easy’

When supermarkets started to sell organic options in and amongst the non-organic products rather than in separate isles, sales of organic product rose sharply. This is simply because casual shoppers could conveniently pick up an organic product during their normal shopping round rather than being forced to shop specifically in the ‘health food’ section. Making the sustainable option more convenient to access shifted individual behaviour.

So, a relevant question for us in the context of our project might be: How might we make recycling or re-using used items more convenient for people?

Pillar 2 — Quality: ‘improve the quality of the sustainable choice’

This is what has started to happen with electric cars over the course of the past two decades. Significant improvements in battery technology allowed users to drive further and the designs of the electric cars improved significantly, making them a more attractive choice.

For our project, this might mean: Can we find a way to improve walking paths or cycling routes or improve access to public transport so that people might drive less?

Pillar 3 — Price: ‘make the sustainable choice cheaper’

Between 2010 and 2019 the price of solar panels in the UK dropped by 82%. In addition, the UK government introduced new subsidies for households, diminishing the cost further. In those ten years, this resulted in a huge increase in solar panels across the country — from 95 to 13,447 megawatt of cumulative capacity.

So, in the context of our project, we might ask the question: Is there a way for us to make healthy, locally sourced, and sustainably produced food cheaper for people in underserved communities?

Pillar 4 — Education: ‘inform people about sustainability and link it to behaviour’

In many schools with waste separation initiatives, it has been established that educating students on the importance of separating waste — including explanations as to how this benefits the environment — is essential in ensuring that behaviours are altered (alongside the physical introduction of waste separation) to encourage students to effectively use the new waste system.

For our project, this might mean compiling and sharing tips and tricks on how to reduce carbon conveniently while even saving a few pounds.

If you have any thoughts or ideas on how to tackle sustainable behaviours in low income communities please do get in touch at