CYCLES for Sustainability
Children and Youth in Cities: a Lifestyles Evaluation Study

CC.0 :: Pujohn Das /

What conditions enable young people to live sustainable, fulfilling lives in cities? How do young citizens see their future? What best practices for city planning and community action can make the biggest sustainable difference? How can we help cities track progress and help young citizens flourish within the limits of a finite planet?

These questions are addressed in CYCLES for Sustainability – a study of the lifestyles and embedded experience of young people aged 12-24 in urban communities. The study is coordinated by the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) University of Surrey, UK and University of Canterbury, NZ, and involves research partners in India, Bangladesh, South Africa, Japan and Brazil and key global sustainability advisors. *


CYCLES study objectives are to:

  • Identify the key sustainability challenges faced by young people in diverse cities and the significant conditions and initiatives which enable more sustainable urban lifestyles over five key policy domains: mobility, food, home-life (energy and water use), employment or education, leisure and communication.
  • Develop and exchange new policy relevant knowledge about which social, economic and urban infrastructure and initiatives make the biggest impact in helping support young citizens to live more sustainable urban lives over time.
  • Build cross city urban youth leadership networks to exchange information and experiences, build leadership capacity and support cohort learning for sustainability.

Youth and Urban Sustainability: a cross city, global study:

Finding ways to live well in urban communities within the limits of planetary and local ecosystems is one of the most urgent and difficult tasks confronting all communities. Urbanization is a phenomenal megatrend of the 21st century. Reports by UN Habitat and the International Panel on Climate Change note the world’s urban areas are expanding by an estimated 1.3 million people each week. Cities occupy 2 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface, but consume 75 percent of natural resources. Cities are also youthful places. By 2050, 7 out of 10 of the world’s youth will live in cities – how they live will shape a global future.

CYCLES for Sustainability will identify the experiences, aspirations and barriers to sustainable lifestyles faced by 12 to 24 year olds living in diverse urban contexts. The research is highly policy relevant, quickly sharing information and lessons across cities to support more sustainable innovations.

A 3-step, locally relevant, and globally coordinated study:

CYCLES for sustainability will be conducted in cities led by local research teams. A robust three step project will enable comparison across cities and over time.

Step 1 – Contextual review: Understanding local sustainability challenges and initiatives.

CYCLES starts with desk based reviews of the specific sustainability challenges, opportunities and current interventions within very different cities. The desk based studies will establish the context for understanding local communities’ experiences and sustainability initiatives. Publishing the desk based studies is the first step in the process of reflection and action research.

Step 2 – City-wide ‘day in my life’ insights.

Interactive focus groups, interviews and photo diaries compiled by young city residents will provide culturally relevant insights into what young people value and understand about sustainable lives; their hopes and fears; obstacles and opportunities. Sharing multi-media images and hosting cross-city virtual conversations amongst young people will enable knowledge sharing and build capacity.

Step 3 – Online survey

Building from ‘a day in my life’ insights, a mixed method online global survey will question young people aged 12-24 about their daily experiences of mobility, food, home-life activities, employment, education, leisure and communication. Under coordination of CUSP, results will be analysed by local research teams and shared globally via reports, film and local outreach.  Findings will inform city, regional and international best practice and could be used to monitor sustainable change over time. The eventual vision for CYCLES is that the project becomes longitudinal, with the research repeated every five years.

Project Management:

In 2014 UNEP funded researchers at the University of Surrey, UK (Prof. Tim Jackson, Dr. Kate Burningham & Dr. Sue Venn) and the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, NZ (Assc. Prof. Bronwyn Hayward) to develop the initial project methodology for CYCLES.

The Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) is now providing funding for project management of CYCLES and for field work to be carried out in the UK and New Zealand. Dr Bronwyn Hayward leads the project and has established partnerships with academics and sustainability advocates in South Africa, India, Brazil, Bangladesh and Japan. We are currently exploring ways of funding the CYCLES fieldwork in these and other international settings.

A small International Advisory Board of key experts in youth and sustainability research will support and inform the vision and impact of CYCLES for Sustainability.

The lead researchers are:

  • Bronwyn Hayward & Sylvia Nissen, CUSP, University of Canterbury, NZ
  • Kate Burningham & Sue Venn CUSP, University of Surrey, UK

Proposed partners:

  • Ingrid Schudel, Rhodes University, South Africa
  • Helio Mattar, Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Vimlendu Jha, Swechha, New Delhi, India
  • Midori Aoyagi, NIES, Tsukuba, Japan
  • Md Hasan, CUSP, University of Canterbury NZ /Jahangirmgar University Bangladesh


March-May 2017: Step 1 – Contextual reviews of sustainability challenges in CYCLES’ cities.

July 2017: CYCLES partners’ workshop to disseminate desk top study, share insights about key sustainability challenges and plan and prepare for Step 2.

Oct 2017-March 2018: Step 2 – conduct ‘day in my life’ focus groups, interviews and photo diaries, collate results.

May 2018: CYCLES partners virtual meeting to share results of Step 2 and plan and prepare for Step 3.

July-Oct 2018: Step 3 – Launch city wide surveys, together with a global launch of the ‘day in my life’ visualizations.

March 2019: Share final results at a global meeting via media, reports, and a short film .


For further information, please contact Assc Prof Bronwyn Hayward

* Expert advisors from the following organisations contributed to this conceptualization of CYCLES: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living (PERL); the International Social Science Council (ISSC); Consumers International; Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP).