Blog post

Going Green During a Cost of Living Crisis

Combating climate change is a priority for world leaders - but how can we make a difference in our day-to-day lives? And how do we approach this in a cost of living crisis? Behaviour Change lecturers Dr Jenny Lunt and Johanna Beswick explore possible solutions with students Katie Johns, Julie Kempthorne and Claire Thomas.

By Dr Jenny Lunt - 28 February 2023

Innovators around the world are coming up with technical solutions designed to help stabilise the planet’s climate. However, the pace of global warming means that these cannot be the only answer for tackling climate change; there just isn’t that luxury of time. We still need to find solutions that are achievable and affordable for everyone in their daily lives.

The current cost of living crisis means that most people’s immediate priorities are understandably focused on living within increasingly stringent means. In this context, greener investments, such as purchasing electric cars or updating heating systems may seem too big a stretch compared with having a warm home and enough food to eat. Yet behind all this, the urgent need to effectively tackle global warming is not going away. 

Students and lecturers on the Environment and Behaviour module of the University of Derby’s MSc in Behaviour Change recently met to discuss ways that people can continue to be pro-environmental as they navigate the cost of living crisis. We framed our ideas under the banner of ‘ENRICH’, in that the cost of living crisis represents an opportunity for us to lead more enriched lives even if doing so by reduced means. So how might going green be more affordable?

Sharing economy

Firstly, we felt that adopting more of a ‘sharing economy’ mindset and lifestyle could help. At a local and informal level at least, rather than trading in ‘money’, we might become more willing to trade in ‘things’. A bartering process – familiar to previous generations – would be used. This might include trading eggs for pots of jam, or old books for clothes, with our neighbours for example, and could extend to developing ‘exchange circles’ in which goods are exchanged between a loop of neighbours.

Setting up libraries of ‘things’ (for books, seeds or clothes, for example) within local communities to help one another get by would be another example. Being greener consumers within the ‘mainstream’ economy, by buying second-hand or eco-friendly goods, and choosing renewable energy utility providers could both save money and draw on a similar community mindset that could drive a sharing economy. 

A box of home-grown vegetables

Day-to-day choices

Secondly, we identified ways in which our day-to-day choices could be both ‘thrifty’ and simultaneously pro-environmental. This could include: planning shopping more systematically to avoid buying or cooking more than is needed; consuming more home-grown vegetables; using harvested rainwater for domestic gardens; choosing public transport over driving; reducing avoidable journeys; repurposing possessions; and both making and welcoming home-made gifts. Putting aside any small change saved in that ‘rainy day’ jam-jar could provide tangible evidence that such actions are worth it. Using these small savings for an occasional ‘treat’ might help embed those actions as pro-environmental habits. 

Other benefits

How else might going green in a cost of living crisis be worth it? We felt there could be a plethora of upsides over and above the financial and environmental benefits.

Swapping car journeys for a cycle commute, for example, has obvious health benefits. Rising to the challenge of being more self-sufficient and more creative in order to produce home-made goods could lend life more meaning and provide a sense of resilience. Adopting more of a sharing economy mindset could also bring the psychological comfort and social contact of being part of a wider community, and also opportunity for reduced health and social inequity.

The cosiness of wearing more layers, more blankets, using more natural products, and using lower levels of lighting could provide some psychological comfort, or what is sometimes referred to as hygge. Similarly, offsetting travel with becoming more connected with our more immediate natural environment could bring us both health benefits and provide a similar level of escapism that more luxury foreign travel might have once afforded.

Finally, we felt that an ability to visualise what a future might look and feel like in which work, home, community and nature connectedness opportunities are tightly integrated, could help motivate willingness to trade modern luxuries for a way of life that could still enrich, but by sustainable means.

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About the author

Jenny in their home office.

Dr Jenny Lunt
Lecturer in Health Psychology

Dr Jenny Lunt is a lecturer in Health Psychology here at the University of Derby. Prior to joining the University of Derby, Jenny worked as an independent practitioner and as a principal psychologist within the health and safety executive. Jenny is now active in research, focusing on the application of behaviour change to Health and Safety and Recovery at work.

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