Sustainable ways of living are SPREADing across Europe

February 23, 2012

New initiatives and social innovation to inspire a shift to sustainable, high-quality lifestyles in the Europe of 2050

A new report finds that a growing number of people across Europe are changing how they live, move and consume in exchange for higher quality, less impact on the environment, and at reduced expense.

HEALTHIER OPTIONS: Organic gardens are one important source of healthier living. Photo: iStock
According to the report Sustainable Lifestyles: Today's Facts & Tomorrow's Trends, many initiatives, policies, businesses and social movements have accumulated in Europe in the last decade.  Examples abound: increased use of solar water heaters (up to 75% on Malta), car and bike-sharing initiatives across the EU, local food chains, urban farming, eco-villages and travel agencies offering 'staycations'. Smart metres not only make energy conservation easier, but energy production as well. More and more people live in energy-efficient 'passive' houses, and a new trend is dynamic buildings that respond to changing weather and indoor conditions.

Neighbourhoods are beginning too emerge around the principles of sustainable living. Cities are adopting urban planning policies to decrease the need for cars and transport. The emergence of an 'experience' economy is demonstrated by the growing interest in non-material gifts, such as massage treatments. Consumption appears to be partially moving towards products of increased quality and endurance that are serviced instead of being discarded.

Of course, apart from solar water heaters on Malta, these examples are marginal rather than mainstream. Our current lifestyles are still largely unsustainable and based on overproduction and overconsumption. We eat more meat and dairy, live in larger homes with fewer people, travel more, and are confronted with obesity and heart disease in greater numbers.

Saving the environment, saving money

While the future potential for sustainable lifestyles is huge, so are the challenges. Not in the least do these lie in the widely-held perception of well-being as intimately linked to high levels of material welfare. However, once a certain level of welfare is attained, more 'stuff' does not make people proportionally happier. Another perception that can be challenged is that a sustainable lifestyle is costly. Many initiatives towards sustainable lifestyles can bring multiple benefits: not only energy and resource saving, but also improved social relationships, enhanced comfort and safety, saving on parking space and other costs, and so on. They exemplify and point towards changes in lifestyles that are not just about 'saving the environment': people are saving money, they are healthier, happier, more socially engaged and using new technologies to make their lives more efficient.

The report Sustainable Lifestyles: Today's Facts & Tomorrow's Trends presents a synthesis of research, leading policy and practice, and stakeholder views on potential pathways towards the further spreading of sustainable lifestyles. Relevant questions addressed include:

  • What makes a lifestyle sustainable?
  • Why do sustainable ways of consuming, living and moving appear to remain marginal?
  • How can more and more people adopt sustainable lifestyles?
  • What is happening now, and how can we encourage positive trends to ensure better future usage of scarce natural resources?

Making it easier to change our behaviours

In order to mainstream, upscale and multiply current examples of sustainable lifestyles, two things are crucial. First, individuals (we) need to become more aware of the social, economic and environmental implications of all choices and behaviours, as a first step towards actually changing our them. There is no 'one size fits all' solution as to how to motivate people to behave and live more sustainably. Successful sustainability initiatives are those which try to understand how to motivate and enable behavioural change amongst different groups of people.

Second, the world in which we live should facilitate sustainable lifestyles as the effortless norm, because currently, and too often, sustainable alternatives are the most difficult one to realize. It is important to make sustainable lifestyles easy, convenient, accessible and enjoyable. This requires the development of appropriate infrastructure (e.g. encouraging walking and cycling) and context-specific solutions (communal rental bikes in Paris, Barcelona, London, etc.).

About the SPREAD Sustainable Lifestyles 2050 European Social Platform Project

SPREAD Sustainable Lifestyles 2050 is a European social platform project running from January 2011 to December 2012. Different societal stakeholders - from business and research to policy and civil society - are participating in the development of a vision for sustainable ways of living in 2050. This process will result in a roadmap for strategic action for policy makers, and will deliver innovative ideas for business, research and society, regarding the enabling of sustainable lifestyles in European society.  The SPREAD project will formulate a research agenda outlining research needs in the field of sustainable lifestyles based on outcomes of the social platform process.

spreadThe project is led by UNEP/Wuppertal Institute Collaborating Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP, Germany), the coordinating partner. The project consortium partners are Demos Helsinki (Finland), the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN, The Netherlands), Politecnico di Milano (Polimi, Italy), EuroHealthNet, the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University (ULUND, Sweden), the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC, Hungary), Ecoinstitut Barcelona (ECOI, Spain), the Northern Alliance for Sustainability (ANPED, Belgium) and Ashoka France (France).  The project is funded by the 7th Research Framework Programme of the European Union (Call SSH-2010-2.1-4). Up to date information about the project is available on its website. Please visit Join the SPREAD online community of experts and practitioners on the topic of sustainable lifestyles at


SPREAD Project Coordinator UNEP/Wuppertal Institute Collaborating Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP): Cheryl Hicks:

EC project officer: Perla Srour-Gandon

At REC: Péter Szuppinger, Tel. +36 20-995-1502, e-mail: