Net zero behaviours in the recovery from COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about extraordinarily rapid changes in individuals’ behaviours. Lockdown restrictions designed to contain the spread of the virus had a knock-on impact on our daily movements and behaviours relevant to Scotland’s net zero target.

This study aimed to explore the experience of behaviours with a positive or negative impact on net zero. It followed a cohort of people in Scotland through different phases of COVID-19 restrictions from July 2020 to June 2021.

The research provides an in-depth understanding of the contextual factors influencing behaviour change, including how those changes are experienced and whether the changes ‘stick’.

Key findings
  • The disruption brought about by COVID-19 restrictions led to changes across the full range of net zero behaviours investigated. A central driver of these changes was the requirement to spend more time at home. This triggered changes to routines and schedules which impacted on many aspects of travel, leisure, shopping and cooking.
  • The behaviour changes that flowed from the disruption to daily schedules were wide reaching and did not take place in isolation, with many net zero behaviours being interlinked. For example, changes to travel behaviours as a result of a switch to working from home was found to have knock-on effects for shopping habits which, in turn, affected cooking habits.
  • Using the ISM tool to analyse participants behaviours revealed that changes to behaviours were influenced by a range of individual, social and material factors including: participants’ values, attitudes and beliefs; their time and schedules; the availability (or lack of) supporting infrastructure and objects required to adopt particular behaviours; and the networks and relationships surrounding them.
  • There was an appetite for a number of the changes to participants’ daily lives to be sustained, particularly reduced reliance on cars, shopping locally, reducing waste and cooking from scratch. However, participants also highlighted barriers to maintaining these behaviours, including a lack of infrastructure or services, a knowledge or skills gap, and cost.
  • Participants were generally in support of actions being taken by government to encourage positive net zero behaviours. In particular, participants were positive about government providing advice, information, financial incentives and infrastructure. Participants were generally unsupportive of charges, regulation or enforcement of behaviour by government.

The findings underscore the importance of creating an ‘enabling environment’ for net zero lifestyles in the recovery from COVID-19 that will help individuals to sustain the positive net zero behaviours that they have adopted during the pandemic.