This summer, jubilant weather reports celebrating hot, sunny summer days morphed into alarming stories about devastating drought in Australia, deadly heatwaves in Japan and Europe and catastrophic fires in California, Greece and even the Arctic Circle in Sweden. Climate change feels closer to home for many more of us today.

The need to accelerate the global movement for low-carbon living has never been more urgent. But how can we channel the concern and momentum generated by these extreme weather events to enable more people to take action?

Governments, NGOs, writers, campaigners and brands such as IKEA, who want to help unlock more climate action, have a huge opportunity to educate, motivate and empower. To help us do this, at IKEA Group we have distilled everything we learned from a major consumer study on how people think, feel and act in relation to climate change into a very practical guide: the Climate Activation Framework. It is designed to help us communicate more effectively in encouraging customers to take climate action.

Here is a summary of the key findings from the research:

We need a positive vision for a climate-friendly future

While recent events have moved climate change into the mainstream media and our social media feeds, our research tells us that we need to balance these stories with an alternative narrative if we’re to inspire more people to take action. Surveying 14,000 people across 14 countries we learned that, while most people felt they had heard more about climate change in the last year, far fewer felt they knew a lot about it. And only 3% of people mentioned solutions when asked for spontaneous associations with climate change – most focused on destructive outcomes for people and the planet. Our focus groups concluded that many cannot imagine what a climate-friendly future would look like.

Question: What comes to your mind when you think about global warming?
Question: What comes to your mind when you think about global warming?
Image: IKEA

To tackle this, we need to start by connecting people’s aspirations for a better life with a more sustainable way of living. More than ever, we need to galvanise tastemakers across every discipline and cultural arena to lead the movement for making climate action accessible and appealing to the many. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Good Life 2.0 Playbook aims to support this by showing marketers and creatives the rich possibilities we have to build on the movement we are already seeing. And to overcome the challenges highlighted in our research, we also need communicators to inspire optimism that we can solve climate change if we are to stop the narrative of an apocalyptic future in an uninhabitable world becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Knowledge drives action

Many of us want to do more – in fact, 90% of those we surveyed said they were willing to change their behaviour to reduce their impact on the climate. So what’s stopping us? The biggest barriers identified in our research included not knowing what to do, lack of confidence that our actions will make any difference, and perceptions that it will cost more or be a hassle.

Barriers preventing individual action on climate change.
Barriers preventing individual action on climate change.
Image: IKEA

Taking on these challenges, IKEA UK & Ireland’s Live Lagom project aims to explore how we can help people live healthier and more sustainable lives by providing inspiration, ideas and advice on what actions they can take, suggesting products that can help them reduce waste or use less energy and water and offering workshops to build skills on everything from pickling leftover veg to upcycling unwanted textiles.

The project has made a measurable impact: participants see and feel the personal benefits in their own lives – such as in the financial savings – and feel empowered that they are making a positive difference for society. They also feel pretty positive about the IKEA brand. By taking the time to understand people’s needs and the daily pressures they face, and showing them how sustainable living can help, Live Lagom has helped achieve a win for people, a win for the planet and a win for business.

Our research tells us that the more people feel they know about climate change, the more likely they are to already be doing things that reduce their impact. And they are also more willing to do more in the future. It’s therefore critical to educate people about the solutions available, be clear about the impact of their actions and emphasise the win-win for them in their own lives and the world we leave for future generations.

Creating a community of climate activists

"I sometimes have the feeling, ‘I’m in it alone.’ You face a majority who aren’t doing anything and you won’t win against them."

— Female, aged 35-55, Germany

The biggest barrier to us taking climate action in our own lives is the perception that governments, businesses and other citizens aren’t doing enough. People are overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, and can feel isolated in their attempts to tackle it. We have seen the motivating power of community in the success of Live Lagom, where we made it easy for participants to share ideas and experiences with each other. Sharing and celebrating the climate activism that is already happening at all levels of society will feed the movement and help it grow.

 A lonely road? … Climate action doesn't have to be a solitary job.
A lonely road? … Climate action doesn't have to be a solitary job.
Image: Nathan Anderson/Unsplash

There are some exciting and creative examples of this, such as the brilliant new podcast series Mothers of Invention, co-hosted by former Irish President Mary Robinson and the comedian Maeve Higgins. It tells the stories of women fighting for climate justice around the world, and expertly uses humour to uplift and inspire.

But we need many more, especially those that celebrate the impact of millions of everyday actions – like eating more veggie meals, switching to LED, cycling to work or opting for a staycation – that many of us are already taking. It’s great to see carbon impact calculators, like this one from WWF, and lists of what you can do to reduce your impact, like this one from Sitra, the Finnish innovation fund. Borrowing on the tried and tested tactics of fundraisers, I see a great opportunity to motivate people by sharing climate-friendly actions and asking them help us to get to the next milestone. In this way, we can combat the feeling that we are in it alone and our actions don’t make a difference. And eventually, we can help make lower-carbon living feel like the new normal.

Making it happen

I firmly believe that climate action starts at home, in seemingly small, everyday actions. If we can help people to see that, far from being inconsequential, these actions can make all the difference to their own lives and the future of the planet, we can change the course of history. But we need to act fast.

I hope that, by distributing our research and the Climate Activation Framework widely to all those who share our mission, we can contribute to a new wave of environmental activism in billions of households around the world.

Download the Climate Action Starts At Home research report

Join IKEA Group and GlobeScan for a webinar exploring the key findings from the Climate Action Starts at Home research on Tuesday 25 September 0800-0900 EST. Register now