Co-creating sustainable lifestyles across Europe

28 September 2023

Co-creating sustainable lifestyles across Europe

How can everyday people and decision-makers work hand-in-hand to face the climate emergency together? ICLEI Europe, researchers, and ICLEI Member Cities are working to make that happen using a simple tool: an app.

Many of us have seen or used applications that calculate a user’s carbon footprint. While these apps can be used to track your day-to-day activities and inspire you to think about your current habits, they can also provide valuable data that could be used to directly inform local policies. For example, imagine your neighbourhood is not very well-connected by public transportation or cycling lanes, and you and a number of others indicate in the app that you therefore use a private car to commute. This information could be shared with local decision-makers to help them make needs-based decisions. This could look something like installing new bike lanes, which in turn enable you and your neighbours to make more sustainable choices. And just like that, the app’s impact is magnified and a more sustainable neighbourhood is co-created!

Amplifying app impact

Let’s take a closer look at two apps that are testing this model.

This month, a Lifestyle Test was launched across Europe. The web app guides users through quick and easy questions to determine their lifestyle’s impact on the climate. Based on the results, they get tailored suggestions on daily habits they can change to reduce that impact, and can build their own personal plans to do so. Individuals’ answers and choices are then translated into anonymous data that helps local policy-makers drive change by making sustainable lifestyle choices possible and accessible via policies, institutions, infrastructures, and businesses in their communities.

Climate Campaigners is another such climate app, which offers challenges relevant to users’ lifestyles that can help them reduce their carbon footprints. Users can also connect with a global community in real time, receive local rewards for completing challenges, and can generate their own challenges or group challenges with friends. Users’ efforts are fed into an anonymised data pool that is open to all. The initiative’s research partners then analyse this data, and the results inform real policy recommendations in partner cities.

The bigger picture: Local Green Deals

The EU Green Deal recognises the role of digital technologies, including apps like these, as a critical enabler to attain the sustainability goals of the Green Deal across many different sectors. The co-creation of space with local residents that results from such tools can raise awareness and shift behaviour, and holds potential to turn willingness to change into concrete mutual climate agreements, such as Local Green Deals – action agreements between a city and its local stakeholders.

While the current Local Green Deal concept focuses mainly on city-to-business cooperation, ICLEI is also exploring city-to-citizen interaction. In the case of the former, the ICLEI-authored Intelligent Cities Challenge blueprint is the most developed guidance to date for cities, which can be complemented by an ICLEI-led training and coaching programme currently being undertaken in 70 cities. For the latter, the FairLocalGreenDeal project is working with five cities to explore ways to apply the concept of LGDs in support of citizen action to achieve urban sustainability goals.

How can climate apps jumpstart these processes? “In order to be successful, the idea of a Local Green Deal needs to build on a sense of ownership and responsibility among citizens for their city and its future – coming down to the slogan ‘think global act local’,” explains Niklas Mischkowski, Head of the Governance Innovation Team at ICLEI Europe. “We have to speak to all types of motivations. Creating awareness based on scientific facts via apps is a meaningful contribution to this social debate.”

As part of efforts to explore city-to-citizen interaction, ICLEI Europe and the European Committee of the Regions will host a Participatory Lab at the European Week of Regions and Cities this October on “Local Green Deals: closing the gap between commitment and action”. This will be an occasion for exchange, debate and open dialogue across political levels “eye-to-eye” with the audience. These conversations will also provide inspiration for conversations at the next European Conference on Sustainable Cities and Towns in 2024 on how to rethink governance structures in the digital age.

Image (Canva Pro) by "interstid"

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101037342.