Greater Manchester’s Net Zero: Influencing Behaviour
Pannone Corporate

In the third of our series of blogs commenting on Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s intention to become net zero, we look this week at efforts being made to help influence and ‘nudge’ behaviour towards achieving the objectives.

Whilst any form of encouragement or guidance seeking to unilaterally change an individual’s behaviour could be interpreted as having somewhat sinister overtones, the Council is eager to be seen as leading by example and has already modified its own operations in this regard.  

For example, Greater Manchester has appointed a number of Neighbourhood Climate Change Offices, to help empower communities to take local-level action and to help build climate resilience, including encouraging cycle to work schemes, turning down heating, and turning off electrical appliances when not in use. 

Can behavioural change impact net zero?

Changes in behaviour and pervading culture will not come overnight but, equally, they have to start somewhere. Greater Manchester is not alone in seeking to achieve net zero, with central government also having made a similar commitment to achieve 100% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared with 1990 levels. 

However, responsibility does not rest solely with government and as the Climate Change Committee’s 2021 progress report to Parliament suggested, public engagement – and individual actions – are key enablers for achieving net zero, with the actions taken by consumer, workers, households and businesses being central to achieving the net zero objectives. 

That report went further and suggested that behavioural change can play a role in almost two-thirds of emission reductions, through adoption of low-carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles and increased use of green public transport.

How is behavioural change to be achieved?

In its net zero strategy, published in October 2021, central government stated that public engagement plays a significant role in driving green choices. At that time the government set out its approach to support green choices, which was underpinned by six core principles. Whilst these were developed primarily with the public in mind, it is accepted that they may apply equally to businesses. The six principles are: 

  1. minimise the ‘ask’ by sending clear regulatory signals;
  2. make the green choice the easiest;
  3. make the green choice affordable;
  4. empower people and businesses to make their own choice;
  5. motivate and build public acceptability for major changes; and
  6. present a clear vision of how we will get to net zero and what the role of people and business will be.

As the Energy Minister, Greg Hands MP, accepted to the House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee, it is not the business of government to force behavioural change on individuals, but rather it is the government’s role to, “encourage, incentivise and enable,” moves towards the objectives to be achieved.

In other words, far from imposing unilaterally mandated changes on individuals, what the government seeks to encourage is that individuals take ownership of their own environmental impact, and in turn contribute to local, national and global objectives.

A government survey has found that 85% of people are either concerned or very concerned about climate change and willing to do something about it in their own lives. However, any such actions must be affordable, accessible and achievable without any significant detriment to the individual. Any measures implemented must also be equitable for all. 

For example, a report published by the Cambridge Sustainability Commission in April 2021 evidenced that between 1990 and 2015, nearly half of the growth in global emissions was due to the richest 10%, with the wealthiest 5% alone contributing over a third. That report suggested that policymakers target the ‘polluter elite’ to make changes to their lifestyles, such as imposing levies on high emissions technologies and long-haul flights.

By contrast, one universally-accessible solution introduced by Greater Manchester is the introduction of 50 zero emission buses as part of the authority-controlled ‘bee network,’ with an additional 50 vehicles being delivered in March 2024. An additional 250 vehicles are expected to be delivered over the next three years.  It is estimated that the adoption of zero emission buses will reduce carbon emissions by 1.1 million tonnes.  This is a resource which is available equally to all, yet which is likely to serve to help shape behaviour by encouraging use of green public transport.

What we expect to see over the coming years, following on from government-led schemes and enabling legislation, is an increasing awareness by consumers as to the environmental impact their actions and the products they buy may have. This in turn is likely to result in further behavioural changes, including the gradual transition towards a circular economy and continued war on plastic.


George Eustice MP, when Secretary of State for the Environment, stated that:

Behaviour change is quite integral to many parts of government policy, but to tackle these complex environmental challenges is a shared endeavour. We all have a shared responsibility, and many of the policies we have are partly about government having a role in regulation to make certain choices easier, so that the public can make the changes we want them to make to get better environmental outcomes.

Although at first blush one may view the idea of subtle influences to behaviour and nudging as slightly sinister acts by those in positions of power, the objectives to be achieved are broadly to be welcomed, and it is clear that local actions by individuals will cumulatively bring about significant changes. 

That being said, questions do remain as to by whom, and on what basis, those individual objectives are to be determined, as well as the global (as opposed to local) impact actions will actually have, especially if other countries and agencies are not pursuing identical goals. For individual behavioural changes to have a meaningful impact, there does need to be a unified approach, which may be difficult to achieve.

Those concerns aside, the takeaway message is clear and there are low-cost steps that everyone can take on a daily basis to act in a less wasteful, and more environmentally-friendly, manner.  

Next week we will look at the built environment and how real estate initiatives may be able to help contribute to Manchester’s net zero aims.

Photo credit: cagkansayin

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