Creating Sustainable Cities for 2040

The year 2040 could see many people working from home several days a week staying in touch with colleagues through videophone and internet connections. When planning a holiday, people will be limited to a certain number of air miles per year, although additional air miles may be purchased from others at auctions. This will reflect the true environmental cost of air travel.

This is one possible vision of people who participated in research at the University of Surrey’s Psychology Department, which as part of the pan-european ToolSust project, aims to promote sustainable consumption in the European cities of tomorrow.

“Europe’s future economic development faces a fundamental challenge to simultaneously balance the demands of global economic competition with progress in ‘green’ innovation and technology. Although technological advances offer promising solutions to environmental problems, the potential of these solutions will only be realised when consumers adopt them and use new products and technologies in sustainable ways,” Leanne Tite, Research Fellow at the University of Surrey explained.

Most of the residents surveyed for the study considered environmental problems to be serious and thought recycling and household energy conservation to be the most important. Local authorities saw traffic and transport as the most pressing environmental problem, although reducing car use only featured third on residents’ list of most important economic activities, according to research carried out by Dr Birgitta Gatersleben, also of the Psychology Department.

Only a quarter of the consumers interviewed linked shopping choices to environmental problems. Although many shoppers would like to buy more organic food, seasonal variations, poor availability and higher prices deterred them. The various eco household products and appliances have also not tempted many consumers to part with their money and are unlikely to do so in the near future. Key barriers to purchase of these products include high prices, lack of availability, lack of information and labelling, uncertainties about the quality of products, difficulty in locating them in supermarkets, lack of range and inconvenient quantity of goods sold in packages.

Changes to protect the environment are most widely adopted when they fit easily into the everyday lifestyles of consumers. Different lifestyle changes require different degrees of effort, for example substituting conventional products with eco-products when shopping is easier than changes requiring revised daily routines such as using public transport.

So what would a sustainable European city be like? According to Leanne, there are many ways to achieve this, but some of the ideas generated at a series of workshops included:

* Government intervention and market forces to create a more environmentally sustainable economy and society.

* Taxation shifts from labour to non-renewable materials.

* Resources polluting enterprises could be heavily taxed.

* Specific taxes could apply to non-nutritious fast food sales and on air travel to reflect their true environmental costs.

* Money raised from green taxes could be ploughed back into research and development of green technologies such as hydrogen powered zero-emission cars, improvements and extensions to rail and water networks which could be used for freight transportation.

“We envisage that the growth of local economies could be encouraged through legislation stating that all shops must stock at least 50% locally produced goods. This may encourage manufacturers to downsize production scales and relocate production facilities, bringing local jobs to more communities.

“Waste could be minimised through re-use and renovation of goods, consumption values may need to change, with people buying fewer new products and more money being spent on services.”

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