CAST research shows Cornwall Council staff are highly concerned about climate change, but knowledge gaps prevent them from taking action

Our latest CAST briefing on motivating a low-carbon workforce shows Cornwall Council staff are very concerned about climate change but knowledge gaps prevent them from taking action.

As part of our research commissioned by the Cornwall Council (CC), we published a briefing resource: ‘Motivating a low-carbon workforce – Insights from Cornwall Council‘ showcasing our key findings and recommendations to Cornwall Council to encourage low-carbon behaviours in their workforce in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.  

We provided recommendations in four key areas: engagement, education, physical and institutional and evaluation. Our recommendations are based on a literature review and our findings looking at the impact of COVID-19 on low-carbon behaviours, employee attitudes, knowledge, change willingness and policy support towards low-carbon interventions.  

Key research findings

  • Our findings highlighted that staff concern for climate change is extremely high, however, there are knowledge gaps which are preventing people from taking action. We also found that the CC’s workforce is keen to be given Carbon Literacy training as well as additional information on what actions they can take in terms of low-carbon workplace behaviours.  
  • The Covid-19 pandemic acted as a “moment of charge” which triggered low-carbon home working behaviours such as teleconferencing and saving energy, but also caused a surge in car use for work between 2021-2022 during the UK’s strictest lockdown measures. Our research highlights that employees need more support to shift to low-carbon travel as travel is a behaviour they are least likely to change. 
  • Compared to high-carbon impact behaviours like eating meat and driving, staff are most willing to change their low-impact carbon behaviours, such as reducing consumer waste, printing less and saving energy. Employees also tend to underestimate the impact of eating meat and overestimate the role of recycling.  
  • There is a universal agreement among Cornwall Council staff that policies to influence behaviour should be fair and incentivise individuals, not penalise them. They also said that they will be more likely to accept policies if they are co-designed with staff. We recommended the CC trial different ways to incentivise and lock in positive change from increased home working, for example, an electric vehicle sacrifice scheme, active travel incentives and low CO2 menus.  

Cornwall is leading the way for climate action, aiming to be the first UK region to reach net zero carbon by 2030, showing the potential for other local authorities to act on climate action by inspiring and empowering their workforce to adopt low-carbon behaviours.  

Our CAST Director Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh MBE, co-author of the briefing, said:

“CAST’s work shows that some of the most ambitious action on climate change is happening at the local authority level, and Cornwall Council in particular is showing real leadership by supporting its workforce and residents to take climate action. This research shows that council staff are keen to play their part in cutting emissions, but they need support; this briefing provides a toolkit for enabling behaviour change amongst staff that can be applied not just in local authority workplaces but in any organisational setting”. 

This briefing is intended as a resource for local authorities and other organisations wanting to encourage low-carbon behaviours in their workforce to help meet internal carbon reduction targets.

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