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Interview: the benefits of behavioural change


Jerome Simpson, a green transport expert with the Regional Environment Centre in Budapest, Hungary, and coordinator of CIVITAS VANGUARD, part of the CIVITAS initiative, talks about the idea of behavioural change as a means to bring about positive environmental benefits, especially in relation to mobility in cities.

For a growing number of cities, application of innovative behavioural change techniques is an effective tool to encourage greater sustainability. Simpson was a speaker at the 14th European Forum on Eco-Innovation, which took place in Prague on 23-24 May 2013.

Briefly, what is CIVITAS and what does it do?

Jerome Simpson: It is a European Commission initiative for European cities to research and demonstrate innovative sustainable mobility solutions. The measures that the programme finances are practical and policy-related measures. It started in 2002, and [initially] it funded projects that had a four-year time frame. Before those projects finished, some more funding became available for another phase of CIVITAS - CIVITAS II - then there was CIVITAS PLUS, and there has been CIVITAS PLUS II. The projects under this fourth phase have been running since 2012, and will continue until 2016.

How can cities use behavioural change techniques to achieve their sustainability objectives, and what are the benefits of such measures compared to, for example, creation of new infrastructure, such as urban rail?

Jerome Simpson: Basically, behavioural change is a lot cheaper. About 700 measures have been implemented under CIVITAS and a large percentage, about 100 of those measures, have been focused on soft measures, behavioural change, because there are easy gains to be made with relatively little investment, whereas a cycling infrastructure or clean-fuel buses costs a lot more money. And of course the benefits from behavioural change initiatives are immediately obvious when you consider it in terms of reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Even for infrastructure investments to be successful, it is still necessary to complement them with awareness-raising actions to encourage populations to shift to more sustainable modes [in order to deliver the environmental benefits]. But there is a concern, especially in these times of economic crisis, to focus on those measures that don't cost so much to implement but can have huge success.

Do new communication platforms, such as social media, help to promote behavioural change towards more sustainable lifestyles? Can social media help cities to share good practice?

Jerome Simpson: I think so. It is a challenge sometimes for local authorities because they are not always able to use Facebook, for instance. They can be a bit limited in that regard. For this reason, CIVITAS has focused more on LinkedIn as a professional networking tool; we put thematic discussions on LinkedIn. But that is not to say that Facebook is not popular; CIVITAS also has a Facebook page, and I've noticed in another campaign that I work on, European Mobility Week, that Facebook is hugely popular because it allows cities to circumvent their usual decision-making procedures or mechanisms for sharing information, because they can post on the European Mobility Week [Facebook] wall. That gives them a lot of opportunities to raise awareness about the measure they are implementing, and reach out to a whole new community of social media users.

Are there examples of effective implementation of behavioural change techniques by cities in the cause of sustainability?

Jerome Simpson: There are lots of different activities undertaken to raise public awareness about sustainable urban mobility and alternative forms of mobility, lots of campaigns that take place. For instance, in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain, they wanted to encourage people to leave their cars at home and to use non-motorised transport to access the city centre and do their shopping. They bought 170 bicycles, they started a competition to win these bicycles. It was organised through the retailers in the city centre, and used scratch-and-win cards. The retailers gave away cards to shoppers and so you had citizens walking away with 170 bicycles, which they were of course then encouraged to use to do their shopping.

[Editor's note: the Donostia-San Sebastian scheme was part of a city initiative to encourage a modal shift away from cars, and to increase cycling by 30 percent. The scheme includes installation of cycling infrastructure and a public bike sharing scheme, which requires registration. The number of registrants has increased progressively, reaching more than 5000 in 2011, and the number of uses per bicycle per day increased from 1.84 in 2009 to 4.59 uses per bike per day in 2011].

There is also a nice example from Ljubljana, Slovenia. They set up a bicycle rental scheme in the last 18 months and they hung up the bicycles that were available in the scheme from buildings in the city centre so you couldn't miss that something was happening with bicycles. And of course they set up around 300 bike terminals across the city centre for users to rent bicycles. That was hugely successful.

Do people welcome these behavioural change attempts, or do they resist them?

Jerome Simpson: A Eurobarometer survey showed that citizens are more than aware that air quality is still an issue in Europe[1]. Many of them attribute [air quality problems] to cars, and at the same time demonstrate a willingness to change their lifestyles so that air quality can be improved, and I think that is a useful indicator. Young people are starting to be more accustomed to sharing things cooperatively as an alternative to ownership. I think there is a movement starting with the younger generation to share, because of course it saves money. You can see in cities like Bremen that car sharing has been hugely popular, especially with younger people. I think there is progress that can be built on, there is a willingness on the part of citizens to collaborate in this regard.




[1] Flash Eurobarometer 360, Attitudes of Europeans towards air quality, January 2013, available at http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/flash/fl_360_en.pdf