Published: 11 June 2014

Academic shares lifestyle approach to sustainability

Focusing on how we spend our time, rather than how we spend our money, could be the key to reducing environmental impact according to Dr Angela Druckman, speaking at the Gordon Research Conference.

Dr Druckman, Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Mitigation in the University’s Centre for Environmental Strategy (CES), presented a paper at the bi-annual Gordon Research Conference on Industrial Ecology, which took place in Tuscany, Italy, from 1 to 6 June. This saw around 100 of the world’s sustainability experts gathering for an intensive programme of plenary talks and discussions on key issues.

Drawing on the paper ‘Time, gender and carbon: A study of carbon implications of British adults’ use of time’, written by Dr Druckman, Professor Tim Jackson (Professor of Sustainable Development), Visiting Fellow Dr Bronwyn Hayward and Ian Buck, Dr Druckman outlined an alternative approach to the challenge of reducing our carbon footprint. Rather than thinking in terms of consumer shopping habits, the research focuses on how consumers spend their time – including leisure activities and household chores – and how this varies according to gender.

The research found that men’s leisure activities represent a greater proportion of their carbon footprint than women’s (26% compared to 22%). This is partly attributed to the fact that men’s leisure time tends to be more clearly defined than women’s, allowing them to plan out-of-home activities, while women’s is less predictable and often fitted in around other responsibilities.

Across the genders, leisure pursuits tend to give rise to lower carbon emissions per hour than other activities such as ‘personal care’, ‘eating and drinking’ and ‘commuting’. In terms of leisure pursuits, ‘spending time with family and friends at home’ is the most environmentally-friendly leisure pursuit – second only to sleeping – while ‘gardening and repairs’ and ‘entertainment and culture’ have higher carbon emissions per hour.

Dr Druckman comments, “Normally we think about our carbon footprint in terms of ‘what we buy’, which can vary enormously. But time is different: we each only have 24 hours a day, and by swapping one activity for another we can reduce our environmental impact.”

“One of the things we’re most interested in examining is the activities that make us happy, and how these chime with carbon intensities,” says Dr Druckman. “Those that seem to make us happiest are physical and social activities, goal-oriented activities, volunteering and being close to nature.”

The research also raises the possibility that one way of reducing our carbon footprint would be to reduce the working week, which could not only ease unemployment and inequalities, and improve well-being, but also – by reducing incomes – lessen consumption.

The role of lifestyle and behaviour in sustainability is a key theme in the CES, which combines knowledge in sustainable development with insights from the social sciences to develop understanding through projects such as Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group (SLRG).

Read the paper, ‘Time, gender and carbon: A study of the carbon footprint of British adults’ use of time’.

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