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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Motivating Behaviour Change to Mitigate Climate Change

Individuals must adapt their lifestyles to use less energy if the UK is to meet its target of net-zero emissions by 2050. In the last two decades, the need for widespread behaviour change to help mitigate climate change has been well documented, but per-capita energy use has not notionally decreased. This suggests previous methods of communication have been largely unsuccessful in promoting change.

This research aims to find new ways of motivating individuals to reduce their energy use at scale. By reviewing theories of human behaviour and pro-environmental lifestyle change, a novel method of communication is proposed called the Clean Living Axis (CLA). The CLA represents a framework for assessing the emission-reducing effect of any change to an individual’s behaviour, and enables comparison within one’s peer group to encourage the adoption of pro-environmental social norms. In a study with 292 participants, the CLA was shown to incite pro-environmental intentions 38% greater than carbon calculators and 33% greater than news articles. It was further shown to be more effective than these at affecting the intentions of those less disposed to sustainable behaviour.

Recommendations for future pro-environmental communication campaigns are stated, namely: advising the use of social comparison; limiting the use of traditional environmental language; quantifying the emission-reducing effect of actions; and setting individual goals.

This work presents a better way of motivating pro-environmental intentions than has yet been seen, the scaled application of which offers significant scope for yet untapped emission reduction.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.