A Report from the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission “Making Sustainable Lives Easier: A Priority for Governments, Business and Society”

February 24th, 2011 by Claire Monkhouse

(click on the cover to go the Sustainable Development Commission "Make Sustainable Lives Easier" report download webpage)

The report, “Making Sustainable Lives Easier: A Priority for Governments, Business and Society,” finds that government initiatives to help people live more sustainably lack ambition and direction, and are too timid given the scale and urgency of the challenge.

Although increasing numbers of people try to `do the right thing’, we are still a long way from living sustainably; and those who do make an effort often find themselves swimming against the tide of society’s norms.

The report concludes that it is difficult to make sustainable choices easily when we live in poorly insulated homes; when public and active travel is difficult and expensive, and when we are surrounded by unhealthy food and relentless signals to consume.

The Sustainable Development Commission is calling for the UK and Devolved Governments to develop ambitious action plans with business and `big society’ organisations to make it easier for people to live more sustainable lives.

Sustainable Development Commission Chief Executive Andrew Lee said “if the whole world consumed as we do in the UK, we would need three planets to sustain everyone. The consequences for people and the planet from this excessive and unequal resource use make the goal of sustainable lives not a “nice to have” some day, but an essential priority for governments right now.’

The report stresses the need for the governments to provide the right incentives and infrastructure to make sustainable choices the easy choices. It concludes that the UK Coalition Government’s favoured approach – nudge – with a reliance on personal choice and responsibility will not be sufficient without these wider structural changes, including regulation, economic incentives and product standards as well as investment in infrastructure. The report also finds that mixed messages from inconsistent or contradictory policy decisions – such as former decisions to build a third runway at Heathrow and reduce VAT – create confusion and undermine public buy-in.

The SDC proposes a new approach to mainstreaming sustainability in which government, business communities and civil society organisations work in partnership to make sustainable choices the norm. Priority recommendations include:

  • A clear positive vision for sustainable lives that engages all players and is clear about the priorities for action to achieve the goal of sustainable lives.
  • Making it easy by providing a framework that uses the full spectrum of levers and incentives to `enable’ us to do the `right thing’ more easily.
  • Working with others through better collaboration and better partnerships between national and local governments, civil society organisations, businesses, communities and people themselves. They all play a vital role in the transition to sustainable lives.
  • Building capabilities and using evidence to create better understanding of what works in practice and using this knowledge in policy making.
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