Participants involved in our EU-funded GLAMURS project met for the third Consortium meeting the second week in October here in Bath. The project has an ambitious goal to investigate the prospects for and obstacles to the adoption of more sustainable environmentally-friendly lifestyles. Involved in GLAMURS are 11 partner institutions from right across the continent.
Opening the meeting, Professor Colin Grant, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Internationalisation) reminded participants of the timeliness of our project, in view of the upcoming UN Conference on Climate Change, to be hosted in Paris from 30 November – 11 December, as well as pressing questions over individuals’ own environmental behaviours.
Promoting a shift and tipping point in environmental thinking
Regulation on environmental matters has changed considerably over the years, responding to the issues and reflecting the ability of policy-makers to address environmental pollution. This has focused mostly on the large polluters, where emissions at source are relatively easy to observe, yet as the world’s population expands and the demand for better living standards rises around the globe, how individuals conduct their own lives with regard to the environment will be increasingly in focus.
Through GLAMURS, we are looking at how seemingly small individual behaviours – not recycling or turning off lights for instance - can have significant adverse impacts when scaled up across a country, region or global population. On a global level, climate change is a case in point.
Project co-ordinator from the University of La Coruña, Professor Ricardo García-Mira, outlined our progress to date in bringing together the various strands of the research taking place across the project. Our work is grounded in psychology and economics, focused on theoretical as well as empirical analysis of the status quo, and also policy measures required to stimulate sustainable living. Our research in Bath is at the interface between psychology and macroeconomics as it focuses on the individual and their role within the wider economy.
At the meeting we learnt more on what other psychologists involved in GLAMURS, based at Uni-Roma 3, are doing in achieving a greater awareness on how psychological theories can be deployed to inform and support microeconomic models of sustainable lifestyles and consumption. Specifically, this is shedding new clues on how we can develop policies or regulation that really shift environmental behaviours for ‘rational’ human beings.
The microeconomic analysis of our work is focusing on individual behaviours, whereas the macroeconomic analysis concerns how to scale up individual behaviour as well as the interaction between different sectors of the economy: namely consumers, producers and governments. Working with the Tilburg Sustainability Centre in The Netherlands, our psychologists are considering how to lock in environmental habits and bring about a ‘tipping point’ in shifting people’s environmental behaviours.
The most comprehensive carbon footprint calculator
At our recent meeting in Bath, colleagues from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) showcased their work in assessing carbon footprints using a new carbon footprint calculator.
This significantly goes beyond what’s currently available by combining bottom-up data (detailed data on shelter and transport) with consumption-based accounts which accounts for the emissions occurring throughout the global supply chain during the life cycle of products. This system has been improved over the course of the GLAMURS project so far with the results refined based on a new policy and lifestyle modelling framework (MAPI) - something developed by colleagues at NTNU.
Using MAPI we are able to gauge a much better picture of individuals’ consumption and energy behaviour habits, with results adjusted for socio-economic conditions and accounting for certain lifestyle adjustments. Further work on the empirical side is being carried out by the James Hutton Institute.
Backcasting to the Future (and multi-partner working)
In a large interdisciplinary project such as GLAMURS, it can be a real challenge to bring all the knowledge from different disciplines together. At the Bath meeting, we explored ways of finding relationships between the different specialist terminologies used in each discipline, by linking them to a core common-sense vocabulary.
However, there are still fundamental differences in the ways in which knowledge is presented in the various social sciences, not least of which is qualitative versus quantitative assertions (for example, "there will be increasing use of electric cars in the future" versus "electric cars will have a 10 per cent market share by 2025"). Hence, an important discussion which took place at the meeting was how we might approach quantification of qualitative statements that would allow us to use findings from visioning workshops about sustainable future scenarios in mathematical and computer simulations.
To complement this approach, backcasting is being used by Delft University of Technology, whereby future visions of the world are established through expert surveys and then the researchers work back from these visions to the present day to understand the mechanisms that need to be put in place today in order to achieve these. This work, we believe, has huge potentials in moving us forward.
During the GLAMURS EU-consortium meeting in Bath and subsequent dedicated workshop on integrating psychological theories in to economic modelling consortium leader, Professor Ricardo Garcia from the University of La Coruňa, and the project leader at Bath, Professor Michael Finus, met the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell for an exchange of ideas.
The Vice-Chancellor and Professor Garcia have known each other for a long time as both work on similar approaches in psychology. The Vice-Chancellor was very pleased with the progress of the GLAMURS-project and expressed her interest to extend the collaboration beyond the lifetime of the project. Professor Garcia has excellent links to the European Commission from which Bath could benefit through joint European projects.
- To find out more about our GLAMURS see: http://cordis.europa.eu/project/rcn/111220_en.html .
- Listen to Lucy O'Shea talking to BBC Wiltshire earlier this week on a levy for plastic bags and using taxation to shift environmental behaviours http://www.bath.ac.uk/play/video/1446644700.
- If you have questions about the project or would be interested in finding out more about aspects please don’t hesitate to get in touch via L.C.M.OShea@bath.ac.uk .