Sustaining Sustainable Practices

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In Brief

•How can sustainable behaviour be sustained indefinitely?
•How do communities take on the challenge of sustainable behaviour?
•Our aim is to investigate how behaviour can be changed effectively.
•Our Objectives are:
–To demonstrate how different kinds of salient information, provided through pervasive technologies, can facilitate behaviour change.
–To analyse empirical data collected from communities over long periods of time to assess sustainable behaviour and work findings into current policy-making practises.
–To build and implement affordable prototype systems that can be adopted by individuals and communities.


Much of the research and council-led initiatives to change people’s behaviour to have less environmental impact (such as reducing energy consumption or changing mode of transport) have been able to show only short-term effects. Moreover, there is a tendency to return to ‘old habits’ once the champion, publicity, intervention, etc., have been taken away. A key question is how can sustainable behaviour in its various forms – be sustained over a long period of time, preferably indefinitely? What mix of policies and technologies can be used to best effect? Which behaviours are most amenable? How do communities take on the sustainable challenge themselves and understand what it takes?

We intend to develop a science of behavioural change that is predictive and generalizable to different contexts; longitudinal empirical studies will be carried out to investigate long-term effects. We further argue that the efficacy of the techniques and methods used will be affected by how ethical they are. The aim of this theme is to investigate how behaviour can be changed effectively; is socially acceptable and will persist over a variety of contexts and settings. The overarching goal is to engage citizens proactively with new kinds of technologically-augmented information in different aspect of their lives and cities. Moreover, we intend to involve them directly in identifying problem behaviours they care about in city life, generating prototype designs and actively participating in the evaluation studies.

The research intends to push the frontiers of the science of behavioural change by systematically addressing many of the assumptions and unknowns in this new field, using a three-pronged approach:
Designing and implementing a range of new pervasive technologies that can facilitate behaviour change by operationalizing theories from behavioural economics and social psychology
Assessing how new kinds of information and multimodal real-time feedback are best delivered by pervasive technologies and which are the most effective techniques for different contexts and behaviours
Ascertaining whether and how salient information can lead people to change their behaviour in both the short-term and the long-term.
A key objective is to be show how different combinations of technologies, behaviour techniques and salient information can systematically facilitate behaviour change, with a focus on those behaviours that either have not been considered before or have been resistant to change using other methods. A further goal is to design technologies that are affordable and customisable so that they can be adopted by individuals and communities who have a problem they wish to address – for example, they may wish to reduce vandalism in their neighbourhood, encourage more volunteering or increase local shopping.