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Transport Focus — Understanding people’s attitudes to sustainability in 2021.

Published 14 December 2021 by Transport Focus

Our recent report The Journey Towards Sustainable Travel, was conducted with the overall aim of establishing a base of knowledge about people’s attitude to sustainability in 2021.

There is a basic understanding of ‘sustainability’ but it is too vague to feel actionable. People don’t have a clear sense of what the core issue is, or the relative importance of different issues that come under the sustainability umbrella.

The report points to a difficult path through the climate change maze to achieving the goal of sustainable travel.

We know from previous insight over many years that cost and convenience determine how we choose to move around. People do recognise that transport is a major cause of carbon emissions but it doesn’t come top of mind in terms of the actions they could be taking.

There is also an element of fairness and futility when it comes to travelling sustainably. Some people question why they should change to a more efficient mode when other people fly regularly. Or they feel they have other areas of their life where they are more responsible.

There are no easy wins, so improving sustainability in transport overall will require a combination of interventions and considerations about how to address issues at:

Personal Level – move solutions from ‘high impact on me, low impact on problem’ to ‘high impact on problem, low impact on me’. Any change needs to feel minimal to the individual, but effective in terms of addressing the problem. Make it measurable and something people can tangibly engage with – let them know that small changes are okay.

Social Level – don’t always lean on sustainability as a key driver – avoid the identity/badge and focus on other benefits of sustainable behaviours.  Encourage the sense of collective action but acknowledge individual realities.

Structural Level – local and central governments and industry need to lead the way – force change (as Covid-19 action has proven it can). It’s not a one-size-fits-all response and will require a combination of national and local initiatives.

We will be following it up with more projects – some looking at general issues and some focussed on more specific areas and modes of transport. As the report illustrates targets to achieve reductions in emissions and net zero will be harder to achieve without the user navigating the maze to sustainable choices.