Discussion note: Design behaviours to achieve a low carbon future

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The second live Design Skills Symposium Forum took place today. The theme was ‘behaviours to address the challenge of a low carbon future’.

Key themes

The conversation moved around three broad issues:

  • Making it real: the best way to engage in a meaningful debate, and initiatives to get action on the ground is to break the idea of a low carbon future down into simple concepts which make a difference to people’s every day life. It is about re-thinking shelter, water, transport and energy. In other words, there are better ways of doing what we do to get to a better future. Achieving a better future is about changing what we do and how we do it.
  • Scenarios. It is important to be able to visualise what difference a low carbon future will make. Will it get people out of their cars, will it build a better life? The ‘What if’ principle is important as a means of visualising what a low carbon future might be like, and what we might need to do to achieve it. It is also a useful technique to imagine a future which isn’t low carbon, and assess its impacts, and potential benefits. A robust view of the ‘What if’ scenarios is important
  • Skills and need: Brazil, Russia, India and China are major economic powers. Their economies are building. Within these countries though the issues of cities, how they work, and the footprint of the demand arising from urbanisation with the knock on effects for the rural landscapes are immense. There are opportunities to look at the knowledge we have, the experience we are developing and the mistakes we have made to collaborate and help these countries, and enable sustainable urbanisation. It may enable us to think differently about what we do locally.

Groups and behaviours

The discussion moved between talking about the behaviour of individuals ie households, citizens and workers, organisations ie governments, companies and communities and leaders. Change for any or all of these groups is about clear concepts, clear communication and clear benefits. This is about a paradigm change. We need to do what we do differently.

Ideas for action

There was some discussion about how we might tackle this challenge of ‘doing differently. Some ideas included:

  • Urban and regional footprints
  • Structural changes to laws and regulations to incentivise behaviour changes
  • Seeing low carbon futures as economies that work, that deliver for all people but operate within environmental limits.
  • Promoting excellent local places, and at the same time, investing in technology, ICT etc to connect internationally, cross territorially to shape new social, cultural and economic relationships
  • Thinking new trans national low carbon transport options
  • Throughout the discussion, the issue of low carbon futures was seen to be both an issue of local and global context. It is about negotiating a balance between these scales of place to support better lives. A key starting point is about better lives.

Participant comments

A Low carbon future isn’t about loft insulation or green energy alone. Its about how we live our lives

In the real world, 1) the idea of a low carbon future needs to be explained to your average Joe 2) will it get people out of their cars? can we retrofit our existing building stock? 3) it’ll make a world of difference if we don’t embrace a low carbon future

We need to speak in terms people can easily understand – Shelter, Water, Clean Air, Transport and Energy and then what it means to them and how they can make it happen. It’s about making good (life) choices in how they work, live and socialise


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