Fostering and Communicating Sustainable Lifestyles: Principles and Emerging Practices

This report provided by the UN Environment Program outlines operating principles to guide the design, adaptation, and evaluation of “sustainable lifestyle” campaigns and initiatives. The report identifies strategies for developing community level sustainability projects, and provides guidance for effective communication, framing and engagement approaches. It includes 16 unique global case studies that represent various aspects of sustainable living - from compact communities, an agro-ecological marketplace, to a non-profit saving sharks from shark fin soup. What brings the case studies together are strategic recommendations to support the design and implementation of effective communications campaigns. Climate change adaptation initiatives can adopt these best practices in communication and engagement - that draw on an understanding of human behavior and resource sustainability.

As described in the report, successful sustainable lifestyle initiatives rely on compelling communication to “increase understanding, reframe aspirations and priorities, support behavior change, and shape new social norms and values toward the ultimate goal of creating tangible changes in the way people live their daily lives.”

Eight principles of success that portray characteristics of successful sustainable lifestyle initiatives are presented as part of a strategic framework for understanding audiences, setting goals, developing strategies, and measuring and responding as campaigns evolve. The following principles are further detailed in the report:

  • Stakeholder-Focused: Engage in participatory, relevant, and grounded ways
  • Better Living: Focus on aspirations
  • Impact: Set clear goals and demonstrate sustainability results
  • Systemic: Consider the systemic nature of lifestyles
  • Dynamic Life Changes: Take advantage of life stages and transitions
  • Diversity: Accommodate the diversity in lifestyles
  • Collective Action: Show that lifestyles extend beyond individual action
  • Responsive: Learn and adapt to changing conditions

The analysis and strategies relayed are based on a literature review of sustainable lifestyles and communications, and on consultations with experts globally including via virtual workshops described in more detail in Part 3. The report also profiles case studies of sustainability projects from around the world. They explore how sustainable lifestyle campaigns intersect with key aspects of meeting core human needs such as food, shelter, mobility, outdoor access, and social connections.

Within the U.S., one of the case studies focuses on the community of Penn South in Manhattan, New York City.  Penn South is a diverse community of all ages, races, and ethnicities, and home to low- and moderate-income working families, while providing a high quality of life with “amenities that are generally only accessible to the wealthy.”  As described in the report, each family has a modest equity investment in the project, and New York City provides tax relief to protect Penn South from the housing market. The community has low ecological impact due to high quality dense housing in ten 24-story buildings, access within walking distance to amenities for all ages and health needs, access to public transit, while 65% of the land is reserved for open space (very rare for Manhattan) that incorporates playgrounds, basketball courts, flower and vegetable gardens, and many trees and benches.




Publication Date: December 2016

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  • Case study
  • Communication
  • Engagement

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