Empowering Resilient Urban Economies: Nudging Environmentally Responsible Behaviours for a Sustainable Future

Urban Economies

In our rapidly evolving world, the urgency to address the climate crisis has never been more pressing. The consequences of our actions, including carbon emissions,
land degradation, and overconsumption, have taken a toll on the planet’s delicate ecosystems. Cities, as hubs of economic activity, are responsible for the majority of this consumption and more than two-thirds of global emissions. With urbanisation on the rise, it is expected that 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, making them key stakeholders likely to experience the highest impacts of climate change.

The 1.5°C target set by the Paris Agreement calls for concerted climate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has highlighted the profound impact of human activities on the planet, emphasising that global emissions continue to rise, and current efforts are insufficient to prevent a climate catastrophe. This underscores the need for behavioural reforms alongside technological development.

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The Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) global mission, initiated by the Indian Prime Minister in 2021, seeks individual and collective action for a pro-planet lifestyle, envisioning a shift from a ‘use-and-dispose’ economy to a circular economy characterised by ‘mindful and deliberate utilisation.’ These treaties and missions remind us that we are at a critical juncture where holistic, decisive, and collective action in urban areas is imperative.

Defining Environmentally Responsible Behaviour

Environmentally responsible behaviour consciously seeks to minimise the negative impact of one’s actions on the natural and built world. The key to influencing individual decision-making is to make responsible choices, the most straightforward ones. Responsible behaviours are more likely to be adopted if they are easy and come with minimal additional costs. Embedding environmental responsibility in the default choice can significantly contribute to making cities sustainable. However, for some changes, legislative and financial pushes may be necessary, but they must be complemented by the development of supportive ecosystems to avoid negative externalities, especially for vulnerable groups.

The Doughnut Economic Theory offers a framework for visualising environmentally responsible behaviour in the context of cities. This sustainable economic model balances human socio-physical needs with nine planetary (environmental) boundaries, representing a “safe and just space” for humanity within these boundaries. It emphasises the collective responsibility to curtail ecological overshoots while ensuring fairness and inclusivity, especially for vulnerable communities. Figure map

Key Stakeholders and Sectors for Driving ERB

Driving Environmentally Responsible Behaviours (ERB) involves key stakeholders from the public sector, private sector, and the general population. The public sector comprises state and local governments, academic institutions, and urban authorities. The private sector includes businesses, utilities, and industry groups, while civil society, NGOs, and individuals make up the general population. Focusing on vital sectors like water, transport, waste, industries, and energy is crucial for fostering ERB across diverse urban settings. These sectors offer opportunities to create urban ecosystems that encourage responsible behaviours, supporting the theme of resilient urban economies.

Key Nudges for Environmentally Responsible Behaviours

Nudging behavioural change for the environment is a complex challenge, but this paper identifies key “nudge areas” that can provide widespread impact. While many of these nudges may be government-driven, a bottom- up approach involving multiple stakeholders in participatory planning is critical for ensuring environmentally responsible behaviours across the urban ecosystem.

A. Strengthen and Upgrade Legislation and Policies: Enact and enforce robust environmental policies that incentivize, mandate, and inculcate responsible behaviour at all levels. This includes regulations on carbon emissions, waste management, water scarcity, sustainable resource use, and conservation measures. Legislation must adapt to new innovations and technologies.

B. Monitor, Evaluate, and Rebuild: Establish monitoring mechanisms to assess the effectiveness of initiatives and policies, regularly evaluate progress towards environmental targets, and adjust strategies as needed. Transparent data sharing promotes accountability and informed decision-making.

C. Capacity Building and Upskilling: Invest in education and training programs for policymakers, government officials, and professionals in relevant sectors to enhance their understanding of environmental issues. This will empower them to develop and implement effective policies.

D. Matching Funds with Policy Commitments: Demonstrate commitment by matching funds with decisions, encouraging stakeholders, including the private sector, to engage in environmentally responsible behaviours and projects.

E. Incentivizing and Subsidising: Offer financial incentives, tax breaks, and subsidies for environmentally responsible practices, making sustainability economically viable for individuals and businesses. Support research and development in sustainable technologies and products.

F. Foster Collaboration and Partnerships: Encourage collaboration between governments, businesses, NGOs, and communities to work together toward common environmental goals. Partnerships can lead to innovative solutions and sustainable initiatives.

G. Harnessing Women and Youth- led Change: Mainstream the role of women and young adults in championing environmentally responsible behaviours as leaders and facilitators. Create platforms for their participation in decision-making and policy formulation.

H. Investing in Climate Change Start-ups: Foster a vibrant start-up ecosystem in the environmental sector through financial incentives, incubation programs, and regulatory support. Encourage innovation and entrepreneurship to address environmental challenges.

I. Institutionalise Pro-Planet Systemic Changes: Embed sustainability principles across government departments, integrating environmental considerations into decision- making, policy formulation, and program implementation.

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J. Raising Awareness and Education: Implement comprehensive awareness campaigns to educate the public about environmental issues and promote environmental education in schools, universities, and community centres.


In the context of nurturing resilient urban economies, where cities serve as dynamic engines of growth and recovery, it becomes imperative to champion environmentally responsible behaviours. This necessitates the firm establishment and enforcement of robust environmental policies, alongside the integration of nudge strategies across various tiers of governance. Vital to this endeavour is the implementation of monitoring, evaluation, and feedback mechanisms, as well as the promotion of transparent data sharing, which are fundamental for ensuring accountability and enabling well-informed decision-making. By centering our efforts on these pivotal nudge strategies and fostering collaboration among stakeholders, we can cultivate an ecosystem that wholeheartedly embraces environmentally responsible conduct, thus paving the path toward a sustainable future powered by resilient urban economies.

Note: Summary extracted from the Urban 20 White Paper on “Encouraging Environmentally Responsible Behaviours” National Institute of Urban Affairs – Urban 20 Technical Secretariat