Behaviour change: healthy and sustainable student travel

Students are bombarded with marketing messages, so it can be difficult to reach them with behaviour change campaigns. Through a co-design approach, Uscreates found a way to engage students to increase sustainable travel in Bristol.

A good time for change

University is a time of novelty and change for many of us. We get our first taste of independent living and undertake a range of new behaviours – both positive and less so. The University of Bristol and The University of the West of England wanted to capitalise on this to increase sustainable travel behaviour among their students. At the same time, from nights out and drinks promotions to university campaigns, students are bombarded with marketing messages. This means that positive behaviour change campaigns risk getting lost, missed or ignored. So, the universities also wanted to discover how to penetrate the cluttered marketing environments which students experience. They called on Uscreates’ behaviour change experience and expertise to help meet both these objectives.

A sustained focus

Uscreates’ starting point was to recommend focusing on cycling, rather than the full range of sustainable travel behaviours. This would enable deep traction on one behaviour, rather than making an insubstantial impact on several. We also involved students from the start, asking students in our network to co-create the communications campaign aimed at recruiting their peers in Bristol to take part in co-design activities. The campaign was, therefore, student-led from the outset. Throughout the project, we rigorously pre-tested marketing messages and materials with students to ensure they were as effective and relevant as possible. And to help secure the buy-in of diverse university stakeholders, we created a communications resource pack for our clients.


Facing up

The campaign was implemented over the summer and autumn, with a focus on face-to-face activities in order to achieve cut-through to students, as lots of the message competition was coming from traditional and digital communications channels. A wide programme of events such as guided bike rides, social events and free BBQs, made the best use of face-to-face contact to support positive behaviour change.

better by bike red

A thought for your work

We find it is better to focus on a specific behaviour, even when there are others that seem linked. Behaviours such as cycling, walking and car-sharing may appear to be closely associated, but the contexts, drivers and barriers may be very different. For this reason, it is best to focus on really understanding one behaviour in order to develop an effective response.

Find out more

We are using the research, tools and learning to create a toolkit for other higher education institutions to use.

If you are facing a similar challenge or would like to find out more about this project, contact Alan Boyles at

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