Blog: Locking in positive behaviours and co-benefits of green recovery, 2 October 2020

The LGA webinar, Locking in positive behaviours and co-benefits of green recovery, was organised as part of the LGA’s green webinar series. It covered how local government can continue to embed the behaviours we have seen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to climate action.

As the UK looks to ‘build back better’ in the aftermath of COVID-19, local authorities are exploring opportunities to create more resilient communities and address a range of environmental and socio-economic issues, against a backdrop of huge economic pressures. This webinar explored how this could be tackled using behavioural interventions. This overview provides a summary of what each speaker presented on, followed by the conclusions and next steps moving forward.

Over 150 people attended the webinar with four speakers presenting their thoughts and reflections on the impact of the pandemic on council climate change strategies. The session was chaired by Councillor Neil Prior, Cabinet Member for Transformation and IT, Pembrokeshire County Council and Deputy Chair of the LGA’s Improvement and Innovation Board. Councillor Neil Prior began the webinar by outlining how the pandemic has caused an unforeseen switch in people’s behaviours and attitudes. The global lockdown has not only meant that we have had to drastically change the way we work and live, it has also meant that we have an opportunity to do this in a way that will benefit our environment and help us to reach our carbon reduction goals. With this in mind, we will now see how this behaviour change can be sustained from key research taking place through universities, public bodies and councils.

Dr Neil Jennings, Partnership Development Manager, Faculty of Natural Sciences, The Grantham Institute for Climate Change

How can we align our behaviours to get our economy going again as well as tackling climate change? It is essential we don’t lose sight in tackling the pandemic of the long term challenges that exist, primarily climate change. There are lots of areas of overlap between building back and climate action as well as reducing inequalities that have been highlighted as a result of the crisis. Co-benefits of a green recovery sit in the middle of all these factors. 79% of the UK climate assembly thought that the economic recovery should be designed to achieve net zero and 93% thought government, employers and others should take steps to encourage lifestyles to change to be more compatible with reaching net zero. There were key themes that came out around helping the Govt. tackling net zero; Education and Information, fairness, freedom and choice, nature and co-benefits. The Grantham institute wrote a briefing paper on the co-benefits of climate action, they brought out key themes. The example of household energy efficiency highlighted how one factor has a knock on effect on personal finance, health, education, work and economy. By improving the energy efficiency of housing stock it breaks the pernicious circle as well as increasing jobs and upskilling the workforce in a sustainable economy. The Ashden Tool-kit highlights the key climate actions and how they have benefits on society and carbon reduction.

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, Department of Psychology, University of Bath and Director, Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation (CAST)

There is an increasing recognition that behaviour change is critical for net zero. Reaching net zero requires a significant and profound change in behaviours. The multiple interventions needed are broken down into downstream (influencing immediate choices) and upstream (changing the context in which people are acting) categories. Getting the timing right for changing behaviours is integral and breaking down people’s habits is the most challenging part of implementing a behavioural intervention. There are times when habits are weaker and disrupted, this highlights an opportunity for people to change because they are more willing to do things differently. Has COVID-19 been a habit disrupter? CAST undertook a UK survey in May 2020 to see what people were doing during lockdown. COVID-19 has not reduced climate concern, it has increased it. We have the public mandate to take action and there are a number of examples of how, i.e. reallocating road space. We need to highlight the co-benefits for communities and communicate them to resonate with audiences. There is an important role for local authorities to engage with communities and to use the pandemic as the opportunity to do it now.

Jonathan Baker, Insight and Engagement Unit, Corporate Services, Hampshire County Council

When looking at citizen actions related to climate change and resilience, we need to look at the action and then build up appropriate behavioural interventions. Hampshire undertook this through a collaboration with Kent and Hertfordshire councils and Southampton University. They took a four step approach through desk research, carbon accounting, qualitative focus groups and an online survey. The report has key actions outlined that explain which ones people were willing to undertake, this can be used by any other authority wanting to undertake similar work. It also contains qualitative and quantitative results and six strategic approaches for campaigns across all climate actions. Not all actions were carbon equal, they put together the carbon impact of each action and the number of people needed to reduce the same amount of carbon each time. There are a large pool of people who were willing, the biggest percentage was people believing their intervention wouldn’t make a difference. Finance was the strongest barrier for people to take action, they needed to make it easier and link it in to wider policies. The council is now setting up a financial incentive for group buying to make it cheaper. They are giving out clear communications, supporting and enabling local communities to build their own capacity and undertaking a “Greening Campaign” to guide local communities to address climate change in an ultra-local way.

Dr Sam Hubble, Behaviour Change Project Manager, WRAP Cymru Emma Hallett, Team manager – Collaborative Change Programme, WRAP

Cymru Wales wants to build on its success of having the third highest recycling rate in the world, and Wrap’s Welsh Government funded programme aimed to build on this by taking a behaviour change approach to its national campaign. Wrap worked collaboratively with local authorities, the WLGA, and Welsh Government, running workshops and webinars to ensure they developed content and messaging tailored to targeted groups. The ‘behavioural challenges’ identified were a) the ‘easy wins’ are gone, b) the ‘hassle factor’ of recycling certain items, and c) many people feel they are already ‘doing their bit’. Wrap focused on two key areas that really influence recycling, which was the need to educate people about which products they can recycle, and the role of applying psychological pressure through social norming. Research and experience show that we are much more likely to change our behaviour if we feel everyone else around us is doing something. The ‘Be Mighty. Recycle’ campaign therefore took a positive approach, using imagery and messaging that showed recycling as a normal behaviour and something that people just do. The content and branding was adapted and made specific to some local authorities, for example Rhondda Cynon Taf featured their own waste collection crews in their campaign material. The initial campaign launch was delayed due to Covid, and messaging was subsequently adapted to address some of the issues raised by the pandemic, but 21 out of 22 local authorities in Wales have participated so far in it.


How can local authorities build on the behaviour changes they have seen though the pandemic that can help us achieve net zero?

  • There will be more disruption of behaviours and we need to be ready to act on them
  • Councils have an important role, they know their residents and the local challenges – find the co-benefits
  • Look at what other councils have already done and adopt those interventions
  • With concerted effort you can make a large change
  • Bringing people with you is key to making interventions work