Unexplored potential

In his latest contribution to Welsh Housing Quarterly (WHQ) our Director of Research and Innovation, Jamie Smith talks about the unexplored potential of changing behaviour in communities to help reduce carbon consumption.

The massive technical and economic challenge of physical decarbonisation isn’t lost on anybody. I don’t underestimate how difficult, time-consuming and costly this effort will be and how pivotal it is to success in curbing carbon emissions in Wales.

But there’s consensus that huge shifts in human behaviour are required alongside this and around two thirds of the reductions we need to make will come from societal and economic change. It’s this part of the problem that really interests me. The tools we use to shape other kinds of human behaviour don’t appear to work so well when it comes to reducing carbon consumption.

Bringing people along for the journey, engaging people and co-designing solutions seem to do little in influencing behaviour at a large scale. Yet this is the language we increasingly use. The nudges and choice architecture approaches that seem to work so well for some behaviours (organ donation, taxation and arrears management) achieve less clear, less impressive impacts when applied to carbon consumption.

Combining these approaches with community-based action is something Side-by-Side, with our partner Hubbub, is in the process of learning about. The evidence we have suggests unexplored potential. We’re interested in the principles of self-organisation, peer leadership and the different units of scale at which change can happen. We want to create something self-motivating that communities can sustain without intervention and support. We want workable solutions to emerge from those who’ll be using them. The discovery is underway, and the learning will be shared as we make sense of it. This isn’t easy work: worthwhile innovation is never easy. But an issue this important deserves our best and most creative efforts, and that’s what we’ll give.