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Changing behaviour in a changing climate

Consumers and Scottish climate change policy

The report is based on research carried out by Changeworks and Hilliam Research on behalf of CAS. CAS commissioned the research understand the implications for consumers of energy and climate change policy in Scotland, and provides analysis of the Scottish Government’s new Climate Change Plan and Energy Strategy. In particular, we sought to understand the type of behaviour changes that could be expected of consumers as a result of these policies, and the steps being taken by the Scottish Government and others to facilitate these changes. 

The research found that: 

  • Behavioural changes that could be expected include one-offbehaviours such as installing low carbon heat­ing systems and adopting electric vehicles, and habitual changes to consumer consumption, such as adopting energy saving behaviours related to water and energy or the purchase of energy efficient appliances.
  • A number of the targets for achieving emissions reductions through changes to consumer behaviours are not explicit in policy documents. This was linked to an over-arching approach that explored how to make current consumption more efficient (e.g. more efficient air travel) rather than looking to change social practices linked to consumption (e.g. taking trains instead of flying).
  • Factors likely to influence how certain policies will impact individual consumers including living in urban or rural areas; socio-economic status; local authority area; and tenure.
  • While most behaviours identified will reduce household costs over time - such as reducing energy use in the home - a number of changes, such as installing new low carbon heating systems and installing energy efficiency measures, require significant up-front financial investment.
  • Interviewees expressed concerns about a lack of clear routes to delivery which could support widescale behaviour change, in particular regarding everyday habitual behaviours
  • At present, a gap appears to exist between consumers’ awareness of the need to change behaviours and the momentum needed to achieve Scotland’s emission-reduction ambitions.


Based on this research we make a number of recommendations: 

  • There is immediate need for the Government to put consumers’ behaviour at the heart of policy, and solutions need to consider the numerous factors that influence any behaviour or choice.
  • Further clarity will need to be provided to delivery organisations, local authorities and consumers themselves to understand the scale of behaviour change needed, as well as the most appropriate means to achieving this.
  • In order to bridge current gaps in knowledge about what may motivate certain people to change their behaviours, there is a need for research. Better understanding of current trends, attitudes and motivations for change amongst consumers will be key to developing appropriate supports and interventions.
  • Appropriate financial and non-financial support is needed to facilitate change. Support programmes should consider factors such as socio-economic status, local authority support, tenure, and rurality, which mean changing behaviours is particularly hard for certain groups.
  • A large-scale campaign of public communications and engagement is needed to secure popular support and ‘buy-in’ for Scotland’s climate change targets, and for the behaviour change needed to meet them
Dr Jamie Stewart
Publication date
August 2018
Publication type
Consumer Futures Unit