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June 29, 2011

Behaviour change is hard

One of the most popular sources of funding for the community sector in recent years has been the Climate Challenge Fund. Specifically designed to help communities take action to reduce carbon emissions, CCF will continue to be a significant feature of the funding landscape in the years to come. A review of CCF has just reported on some early findings. It raises some interesting questions – particularly around how successful the Fund has been in changing the behaviour and attitudes of local people


Review of the Climate Challenge Fund 

By Brook Lyndhurst and Ecometrica


The Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) was set up to help communities address climate change by reducing their carbon emissions. Communities were funded to encourage people to adopt new low carbon behaviours and measures (but not capital funding for the development of renewable energy). Projects covered a wide range of behaviours, including energy, food growing and purchasing, transport and waste. The CCF made 331 awards to 261 communities located throughout Scotland in seven funding rounds between 2008 and 2011, with further funding announced in March 2011 for 130 projects. To illustrate the range of outcomes achieved by the CCF, 21 projects were selected for an in-depth review. The aims of the review were to identify the kinds of impacts the projects had made, to draw out some of the key factors that make a successful behaviour change project, and to explore the role and contribution of community projects more widely in delivering sustainability goals.

Main Findings

■ CCF projects in the review successfully influenced behaviours across a wide range of actions, including take-up of energy efficiency measures, everyday energy behaviours and food growing. Some projects demonstrated effective ways to encourage take-up of renewable energy or stretch participants’ food purchasing habits. Transport behaviours were more difficult to change.

■ Projects had most success with participants who were open to change. They overcame inertia (accelerated change), opened up new possibilities that people might not have considered (activated) and supported participants in working through change processes and barriers which they may have found daunting without projects’ help (facilitated). Where participants had already made changes, the projects’ influence reinforced their behaviour (consolidated). However, projects rarely succeeded in convincing those to change who saw no merit in it (converted).

■ Participants generally had positive environmental attitudes to begin with but also significant scope for behaviour change. Participants’ motivations to change were often highly personal; environmental benefits tended to be seen as an additional ‘feelgood factor’. Projects had limited impact on participants’ environmental attitudes, other than to reinforce positive attitudes where they already existed.

■ Key characteristics of successful projects were a good understanding of the audience and how to best engage with them, and organisational competence, including a learning culture and good project planning.

■ Estimates of lifetime carbon emission savings from the installation of home energy efficiency measures were more certain than those from behavioural change interventions. Improved measurement methods for capturing the impact of behavioural interventions are needed so that priorities between different approaches can be assessed fairly, including longitudinal research into the long term evolution and maintenance of behaviours.

■ While the review suggests that community projects are unlikely alone to deliver carbon savings on the scale needed to meet national targets, they make a distinctive contribution and, perhaps more importantly, are uniquely placed to engage people in sustainable lifestyles more broadly.

■ Key implications for climate change policy were identified with respect to: the role of government in removing external barriers to behaviour change, complementing the activity of community projects; the possibility of explicitly broadening the strategic aims of the CCF to go beyond carbon savings to encompass sustainable lifestyles; and the need for long-term funding support to encourage the evolution of new social norms and help build community capacity and willingness for action on climate change.

Full report has not yet been published. For a full summary of findings click here