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New approach needed in green policy making
A new report into green behaviour, undertaken by the European Commission (EC), has advised that policy makers should do more to encourage the public to lead greener lifestyles.
Published yesterday (25 October), in the EC’s Science for Environment Policy research, ‘Green Behaviour’ is the fourth in a series of reports, which seek to ‘provide an accessible overview of emerging areas of science and technology to help inform evidence based policy’.
By looking at psychological research, the report found that though people often express concern about environmental issues, they often struggle to ‘relate [their] own individual consumption and behaviour to large-scale problems’.
Accordingly, the EC recommends the use of psychological ‘nudges’, or behavioural tools, designed specifically to influence behaviour. These are ‘perceived as less paternalistic, so increasing public acceptance and lessening the administrative and regulatory burden‘.
The report states that in 2001, households accounted for 26.2 per cent of total energy consumption in the EU. This statistic has been tackled by one particular ‘nudge’, whereby energy companies started comparing consumption behaviours between householders and their neighbours.
However, though these techniques are useful, evidence found by the report suggests that other approaches are often more appropriate in ‘certain situations’. One of the most successful of these was found to be using a number of different approaches combined into one ‘bundle’. This could involve employing methods that occupy a middle ground between encouraging and enforcing, by means of ‘carefully targeted measures, such as financial incentives, taxes and ‘nudges’’.
‘There is strong evidence-based support for the use of a mixture or ‘bundles’ of tools to encourage green behaviour. Combinations of push and pull strategies may be useful, and this could also include choice-editing, i.e. the removal of unsustainable choices’, reads the report.
Policy makers were also advised to take advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’ regarding the public’s reaction to certain behaviours, citing the UK’s ‘public resentment against four wheel drive vehicles in urban areas’ as an example of enabling the introduction of taxes for these larger vehicles.
In terms of practical policy making, the UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team are currently conducting a number of trials ‘to research the impacts of incentives designed to encourage green behaviour’.
These trials include making the installation of loft insulation easier, by offering a free loft clearing service. According to the Behavioural Insights Team, though financial incentives have failed to increase uptake, this service has reportedly seen an increased uptake of 2.89 per cent.
The report concludes that transforming the behaviour of a population is a complex task.
‘Policymakers will need to strike a balance between including the increasing range of scientific and theoretical insights whilst maintaining a practical approach that is transparent to stakeholders.’
Read the EC’s ‘Green Behaviour’ report.
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