The twin challenges of the climate and cost-of-living crisis

isla’s community lead Ellie Ashton-Melia looks at some of the twin challenges of the climate and cost-of-living crisis and whether there is any conflict and congruence between the two.

You’d be led to believe that crises are viewed independently of each other but this isn’t necessarily the case. A solution to tackle one challenge could simultaneously overcome another. When the two crises are pitted against each other, this creates a priming effect whereby decisions about making better choices for the planet or living create a perceived trade-off when there may not be.

Public opinion shows that we’re ready to live more sustainable lifestyles. 85% of consumers adopted at least one lifestyle change to be more sustainable in 2020 (Deloitte, 2021).

However, more recent research has shown that the UK public feel constrained in their ability to take climate-positive actions due to economic uncertainty. A poll of 2,000 adults found 64% want to be eco-friendly but are fearful the increasing cost of living will make such a thing impossible (Guardian, 2021).  

But going back to the “trade-off” we shouldn’t just assume that people will stop supporting nature or climate-positive behaviours amid the cost-of-living crisis. In fact a survey by Kantar (June 2022) found that 65% of homeowners who intend on making energy-efficient changes in the next year say today’s economy accelerated their plans. 


Support at government and organisational level is key

Governments and organisations should champion, and facilitate, climate-positive behaviours with policy change and investment rewarding people, particularly those from low-income households who are often most impacted most by both crises. The Forum Network highlights that policymaking can and should incentivise businesses and consumers that tackle rising energy and food prices. Some of these solutions could be implemented tomorrow from accelerating retrofitting buildings, exempting fruit and vegetables, and rail from VAT, and taxing red meat. There are quick wins out there just needs to be a government brave enough to implement them.

In terms of best practice from organisations, The Big Clean Switch – ​​a UK-based renewable energy comparison website and switching service and certified B Corp – has also launched an employee energy support programme for UK organisations to support employees who face record energy bills to cut costs and reduce their carbon emissions. From green tariffs to energy-efficiency equipment for those working from home, the scheme allows businesses to demonstrate that they are committed to the needs of both their workforce and the needs of the world at large.


Climate change and systems change

Many of the current and future solutions to climate change are also solutions in hindsight. If we had already implemented many of the infrastructure changes and transitioned away from processes that harm rather than help the environment the cost-of-living crisis we’re currently facing wouldn’t be quite so dire.

At Communicate 2022 – The UK’s leading conference for environmental communicators – Rob Percival, Head of Food Policy for the Soil Association, summed some of this sentiment up when he answered the question ‘what is the role of organic in the cost-of-living crisis?’, saying:

“If we were farming ecologically, we would be shielded from the price rises we are currently seeing. You could say, hypothetically, If we’d invested in this style of farming 10 years ago, we could be shielded from this [the current cost-of-living crisis].”

In response to the cost-of-living crisis, sustainable food production solutions are emerging. One such example includes The Grow For The Future scheme – launched in Hounslow in November – which is turning over 27-acres of scrub to local communities to enable them to grow food. It will also teach urban children about healthy living.

Commenting on the scheme, ​​Cllr Salman Shaheen, Cabinet Member for Parking, Parks & Leisure on Hounslow Council, said:

“It is a scandal that in 21st century Britain, children are going to school hungry and families are forced to choose between heating and eating.

“Grow for the Future will provide hundreds of new growing spaces for Hounslow’s residents to put food on their plates. Land once going to waste will be repurposed to educate children on leading healthy lives and how to grow nutritious fruit and veg.

“And what our schools grow, they can donate to feed vulnerable children missing out on free school meals as the cost-of-living crisis bites.”

History has shown that working with nature, rather than against it, will always yield benefits for people, the planet and our purse strings.

Nature and the natural environment has also always offered a place of refuge in difficult times. A Natural England survey (March 2022) looking at the way we have engaged during the pandemic, showed that four in ten say that nature and wildlife are more important than ever to their wellbeing.

Naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham recently drew comparisons between our strengthened relationship with nature during the pandemic and its place during the cost-of-living crisis. Speaking to the Standard, he said: “It doesn’t cost anything to go into a green space and when you are stressed, as we found in lockdown, a lot of people took to their green spaces – parks, nature reserves, gardens, whatever it was, and found an enormous mental-health benefit.”

“It was a place to find solace and respite from the struggle and stress of life and I think this winter will throw up comparable situations for people that they endured during lockdown, so don’t forget that nature is there for you, it does have that calming breathing space and it does make a real different to people’s lives.”

Marian Spain, Chief Executive of Natural England, again speaking at Communicate 2022, ran with a similar narrative when she argued that “the cost-of-living crisis is even more of a reason to keep pushing the benefits of nature”, as it supports mental and physical wellbeing as well as having a myriad of other of co-benefits.


Making comms considered

We know that the cost-of-living crisis won’t come to an end with the close of 2022 and it’s an issue that may continue to impact the social and economic landscape for many months to come. We also know that many of the above shifts will take time to be fully realised. So what do organisations do in the meantime?

Remaining consistent, and considered, with climate communications during this period, while explicitly acknowledging what people are going through and being humble in their messaging, is key. OnRoad Media has created a free comms guide – Messaging this Moment – which focuses on connecting the climate and cost crises during this pivotal time. The National Trust struck the balance perfectly in their recent cost-of-living crisis statement which coincided with a national campaign offering free passes so that people and nature could thrive despite many families struggling under the weight of current, and in many cases, ongoing financial pressures.

Ultimately, the cost-of-living crisis means a renewed approach to the climate crisis at the governmental, organisation and individual levels, but that doesn’t mean progress, however incremental, can’t continue towards our collective climate-action goals.




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