In September we will be announcing a major new sustainable lifestyle campaign with a leading UK retailer. The impact of the campaign will be assessed by the University of Surrey and with them we have identified the 5 biggest challenges to be overcome.

1) There is currently little consumer demand

The number of people taking sustainability seriously has remained stubbornly low for the past 20 years. Perhaps two or three consumers in every 100 are actively trying to minimise their environmental footprint on a consistent, across-the-board basis. The majority find it too hard, too overwhelming, too complicated and too much hassle given all the other things they need to think about.

Building this demand is a huge challenge. We will need to provide positive incentives and collective stories that overcome the negative perceptions people have about a greener lifestyle. Building trusted networks and ‘congregational’ places will be required to create a sense of normality around sustainable living. Consistent messaging and a supportive infrastructure will help maintain motivation and ease change.

2) Information is not enough

Information and education on their own rarely shift behaviour. A complex mix of incentives, peer support, trusted advice and leadership is required to create a successful campaign. Retailers are in a strong place to provide these additional elements as they can offer financial incentives, provide advice from stores and help share information between customers.

3) What can be done about the rebound effect?

If people make changes in one aspect of their lifestyle there is a danger that they will use the money saved on something that has a higher carbon impact elsewhere. This is known as the rebound effect and is an area where research is in its infancy.

Current research suggests that rebound effects are currently modest (0-32%) for measures affecting domestic energy use (although this will change if electricity supply is decarbonised), larger (25-65%) for measures affecting vehicle fuel use and large (66-106%) for measures that reduce food waste. Rebounds are larger for low income groups.

Somehow we need to communicate the rebound effect in a way that is simple and doesn’t demotivate. Our retail partnership could be an advantage here as we seek to persuade consumers to use money saved to capture and store environmental benefits (e.g. by investing in low energy lighting, solar, etc.)

4) Tracking change is complex

Measuring household behaviour change is complex. People are rightly reluctant to share household date such as energy bills. The measurement process cannot be too time intensive for households and must not distort results.

To overcome this challenge a mixture of measurement will be used including self-reporting diaries, face-to-face interviews and (where people are willing to provide it) hard data. The scale and length of the campaign will help ensure that robust data is collected.

5) Can we shift to low-carbon time use with changes in leisure patterns?

Early research indicates that our leisure activities have a significant environmental impact and these have largely been ignored by past behaviour campaigns which have focussed more heavily on things such as domestic energy use. This is an area where we will explore further and seek to promote lower carbon leisure activities which can also boost health and well-being.

We are entering the campaign with eyes wide open about the scale of the challenge and have already enormously benefitted from the expertise that University of Surrey has provided in designing activities. Over three years we will share results and help build a growing body of evidence on how impactful campaigns such as this can be.