Project: Sustainable Lifestyles: An Exploratory Analysis A44

Reference: STP 14/5/8

Last update: 17/09/2003 16:04:20


The objectives of this research are, within the limits of an exploratory study, to:

Investigate the concept of a 'sustainable lifestyle' and provide an operational definition that knits together the various elements of sustainability;
Develop indicators for measuring the components of the sustainability of lifestyles, across all facets of sustainability;
Examine the sustainability of existing lifestyles of selected population groups in the UK, taking into account levels of local capacity;
Explore the extent to which existing government policy initiatives in different sectors assist or impede the move towards greater sustainability;
Identify the kinds of lifestyles, that are relatively sustainable, including an assessment of the 'sustainability gap' between where we are now typically and where we could be, given current knowledge and economic, social and cultural constraints;
Address issues of how to make 'sustainable lifestyles' more attractive to the population at large.


Reference is often made to the need to promote 'sustainable lifestyles'. Much research has examined the components of sustainability at a sector level (energy, transport, built form, etc.), but little work in this country has directly audited complete daily living patterns in terms of their sustainability, in environmental, economic and social terms, taking simultaneous account of the use of structures/facilities and the actions of individuals and households. This is an important omission both technically, because there are likely to be significant interactions between sectors, and in terms of encouraging behavioural change, since people are interested in knowing how becoming 'more sustainable' - whatever that means - is going to affect their lifestyle, as a whole.


University of Westminster
Transport Studies Group, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS
+44 (0)20 7911 5073

Contract details

Cost to the Department: £50,000.00

Actual start date: 01 September 2001

Actual completion date: 30 September 2002


"Every little bit helps..." - Overcoming the challenges to researching, promoting and implementing sustainable lifestyles
Author: Dr Tracey Bedford, Professor Peter Jones and Dr Helen Walker
Publication date: 01/03/2004
Source: Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Westminster
More information:

Sustainable Lifestyles: An Exploratory Analysis Executive Summary and Recommendations
Author: Dr Tracey Bedford
September 2002
Source: Dora Wheeler TSG Administration, University Of Westminster

Summary of results

  1. One of the key challenges of the early twenty-first century is to reconcile the need to reduce the levels of energy and environmental resources we consume, while at the same time improving the quality of life for all.

    Researchers from the Centre for Sustainable Development (CfSD) at the University of Westminster have examined how it might be possible to measure, promote and implement sustainable lifestyles. The study found that:

     There is a range of significant environmental impacts associated with how individuals currently live which urgently need to be addressed. However people will resist making changes to their lifestyle if they feel that their quality of life will be undermined or reduced in some way. The way in which recycling has become accepted suggests that it is possible to introduce actions to reduce environmental impacts which individuals are willing to take, but they must involve minimal inconvenience or extra cost.

     Reducing the amount of resources that individuals consume through their existing lifestyles is an important part of moving towards sustainable lifestyles. However, resource use is currently inequitable and any approach to increasing the sustainability of lifestyles will need to take into account this uneven lack of access to resources.

     There is substantial variation in the availability of data that are required to support policies designed to implement sustainable lifestyles. Some areas, like energy, have surveys that allow for good, coherent analyses. However other crucial resource issues, for example water and its use, have a dearth of suitable data on which to base decisions about how to bring about more sustainable lifestyles. It is imperative that all necessary information is collated and made available so that suitable policies can be developed and actions prioritised.

     Although government attempts to promote and facilitate sustainable lifestyles may be motivated by an urgency to address pressing environmental concerns, these initiatives need to reflect what influences lifestyle change. The most effective approach is likely to involve the targeting of different strategies at various consumer groups. This kind of multifaceted approach will require more disaggregated data than is currently available, both to identify target groups and to assess the effects of policy interventions.

     Individuals obtain much of their knowledge about the environment at a local level, especially in their workplaces. Any campaigns to change behaviour at home should also be simultaneously promoted via workplaces to promote a feeling of normality, equal responsibility and effectiveness. To avoid confusion, government needs to coordinate its approach to promoting messages about sustainable lifestyles.

Departmental Assessment Status: Project completed prior to implementation of the Departmental Publication Scheme.