"Nudging" the UK towards greener habits

A new report this week believes that food accounts for 30 per cent of the UK's carbon footprint and that if the food industry is to play its part in keeping temperature rise below two degrees emissions need to be cut by at least 70 per cent by 2050.

A breakfast meeting I went to on Wednesday (which ironically massively over-catered) highlighted how difficult this will be to achieve.

Our food choices are wider than ever. I don't know how any of us were ever happy before the arrival of the loganberry and quince yogurt. Fortunately for our overall well-being you can now find it at most supermarkets. The downside of this choice is that in the UK we throw away 1.2m yogurts every day.

Until last year the relative price of food had dropped which has made it less expensive to throw food away leading to the mountain of food waste that we now produce. As most of us buy food at supermarkets and pay for everything together at the till we have far less idea how much each item costs which again leads to a throwaway mentality.

Finally, despite the rash of cooking programmes, as a nation we are losing our cooking skills making it harder to conjure up recipes using up the leftovers in the fridge.

Changing these trends is a political nightmare. No politician is going to stand up for higher food prices and less choice. Instead we are seeing an emphasis on local solutions and initiatives. Community shops, grow-your-own schemes, more allotments and better education (including our own Appetite for Action initiative) are all on the agenda.

This localism angle will take us a long way but it needs to be accompanied by wider structural changes including improved efficiency in the farming industry, changes to animal feeds and a significant switch to non-carbon fuels. Achieving this will require collaboration across all sectors and a strong Governmental lead.


Complexity was definitely a theme of the week. On Monday I went to a workshop looking at how carbon can be reduced from the UK travel industry. The workshop was attended by a diverse range of companies and academics, but significantly nobody from key Governmental departments, which rendered most of the event pointless. The ability to hold lengthy discussions which come up with great solutions without anybody being in a position to act on them is a speciality of most of the events I attend.

What was interesting about this event was the initial overview that clearly demonstrated that new vehicle technology alone cannot achieve the carbon targets required from the UK's transport sector. Alongside the introduction of this technology, we have to encourage people to use video and teleconferencing more, and we need to persuade people to drive more efficiently. This is something that we have recognised as key and have created an eco driving simulator.

What the debate made me realise that the best time for people to use this simulator is when they are learning to drive as this is when driving habits start to become embedded. This may be as obvious as saying that Portsmouth FC's financial position looks a little precarious but is not something we have done to-date, which we will now change.


Both the food and travel debates highlighted the role of encouraging people to change their behaviour. Politicians and companies are increasingly recognising this and are starting to use a new language. There is much talk of "nudging" people into making better decisions and of shifting social norms. But if I hear one more person use the example of how a hotel changed the behaviour of its guests with different messaging around the use of towels I will throw-up.

What is clear is that decision-makers are finally starting to take note of what academics have been telling us for years. Changing behaviour cannot be achieved simply through mass advertising campaigns but needs a far more complex set of drivers and approaches.

What is encouraging for me is that the approach Global Action Plan has taken for more than 15 years is now being recognised as an integral part of the policy arena. It is also something that we are increasingly doing internally as a matter of course.

When we moved into our new office, I made a conscious decision that the cycling racks should be placed in a prominent position right next to our reception. This goes against all the recognised aesthetic that bikes should be hidden away in a dark corner and be virtually inaccessible to anybody not in training for an Iron Man competition.

The result of the prominence of the cycle rack combined with the provision of a good shower is that the number of people cycling into the office is slowly increasing and the social norm is changing.

UK Aware

Climate science took another battering this week with an in-depth exposure of UEA by The Guardian. I think it was a great piece of journalism. Climate scientists have to be able to stand-up to intense scrutiny as they are providing evidence against which massive investment and policy decisions are being made. None of the investigation I have seen has shifted the underlying basis of the science but what is clear from a recent BBC poll is that the interrogation is increasing the number of climate sceptics significantly.

A large number of people don't want to believe the science because they think us nasty greenies are using it to take away their basic rights and force them to live a puritanical and miserable life. This belief is a sad indictment on the environmental movement.

I believe that a low carbon lifestyle can be massively fulfilling and enjoyable and we need to be able to communicate the sense of liberation, control and fun that such a lifestyle can provide. It is for this reason that I was chuffed to bits that UK Aware has chosen us as their charity partner this year.

UK Aware takes place on 16 and 17 April at London Olympia and is the UK's only green and ethical lifestyle exhibition. UK Aware actively shows the positive side of a greener lifestyle. It isn't about giving things up, it is about living differently and we are delighted to be associated with this message.

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