There is an increasing understanding that solving the interlinked challenges posed by climate change, and the growing demand on key resources such as energy, water and food requires changes in people’s behaviour and lifestyle. According to the sustainability think tank Global Footprint Network 86 per cent of the world’s population now live in countries that demand more from nature than their own ecosystems can renew. Each year they acknowledge Earth Overshoot Day, the date when humanity’s footprint in a given year exceeds what earth can regenerate in that year. Since the year 2 000 the day has moved from early October to August 19th in 2014.
Tackling the challenges ahead will most certainly require hard political instruments such as legislation and regulation as well as substantial technological achievements. Politics and technology however, both rely on people’s willingness to accept changes and adopt new behaviours. Moreover, due to research from psychology and other behavioural sciences we now have more knowledge than ever before about the complexity of human behaviour and how this can be used to promote sustainability. This handbook outlines 12 strategies that can be used to promote sustainable behaviours in people’s every day life, drawing on concrete examples that have been tested, evaluated and proven to work in a specific context and setting. It goes without saying that there are no quick fixes of how to encourage green behaviour. The strategies and examples provided here give some important clues to how humans tend to act and respond to different approaches. Although many of the strategies can be combined to strengthen each other there is some conflict between some of the approaches. Most important is the distinc- tion between the nudge and the think — approach described below.
Traditionally, promotion of sustainable behaviour practices has relied heavily
on providing people with information and giving people economic incentives. Although sometimes successful it has become evident that these strategies are not enough. According to a report called MINDSCAPE — influencing behaviour through public policy written on behalf of the British Cabinet Office in 2009, research has found that as much as 80 per cent of the factors influencing behaviour do not result from knowledge or awareness. Rather it has to do with automatic and un- conscious influences on our behaviour such as the impact of social norms, emotions and incentives. Instead of trying to change people’s minds it argues that one should focus on the environment within which we make our decisions.
Much of the theory and examples explained in the MINDSCAPE-report are drawn from the book Nudge — improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness issued by two American experts in behavioural economics in 2008. The book explains that there are two main systems that characterize human thinking. On one hand we have the reflective system in which we consciously think through our options, on the other there is the automatic system that work more or less instinctively without any thinking involved. In contrary to the ideas of classic eco- nomic theory this means that people do not always act rationally and according to their self-interest, explaining for example the infamous gap between attitudes and behaviour. Targeting the conditions that shape people’s automatic responses can therefore help people to make decisions that are better for themselves, society and the environment. The tools are often referred to as nudges, gentle pushes or reminders that lead people in the right direction. During the last few years nudging as a tool has gained popularity among policy makers, private organizations and NGO’s who want to influence people’s behaviour. In the UK a behavioural insights team was set up in 2010, generally referred to as the “nudge-unit”, and in June 2014 a European Nudging Network was launched during a conference in Copenhagen. Some of the strategies presented in this hand- book, such as “green by default”, “attract attention” and “use social norms” provide concrete examples of how nudging can be used to promote sustainable behaviour.
Everybody does not embrace the popularity of nudging-strategies. Some point to the risk of governments implementing such tools as a cheap and soft alternative to other policy instruments. Others emphasize that the challenges ahead require radical changes in people’s attitudes and values and cannot achieved without making people aware of the actions required.
The book Nudge, Nudge, Think, Think: Experimenting with Ways to Change Civic Behaviour explains the “think-strategy” which believes that it is both possible and necessary to get citizens to think through challenging issues and that individuals can overcome some aspects of their bounded rationality when made aware about it. One way to do so is by engaging people’s values.
In 2008—2010 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the UK issued a series of reports in collaboration with researchers in social psychology that imposed strong criticism towards current approaches to motivating environmentally friendly behaviour change. The reports eventually culminated in a handbook and a network called Common Cause that argues that the environmental movement need to come together and work with engaging people’s values. At the base of Common Cause lies the work of social psychologist Shalom H Schwartz who conducted a worldwide study with 60 000 people about human values in the early 90’s. Schwartz was able to identify a set of values that seem to be common among all people. However, he also found that some values are strongly related to each other whereas others are unlikely to be prioritised strongly at the same time by the same individual. For instance there is a op- position between values that are related to people’s pursuit of personal status, wealth and success (self-enhancement) and values that are concerned with the well being of others, such as equality and protecting the environment (self–transcendence). Several researchers have found that when engaging one set of values this has a spillover effect on related values whereas those in oppo- sition are weakened. For instance, people who are reminded of generosity have been found to be more likely to support pro-en- vironmental policies than those reminded of financial success and status. To achieve radical behavioural change, it is argued, we need to shift focus away from focusing on people’s self interest and instead try to actively engage values that are related to sustainability. Some examples of how to do this are presented in this handbook. Engaging people’s values is not the only way to make people think though. Other examples presented in this handbook are to gain people’s commitments, form teams and create new habits.
Although some strategies presented in this handbook rely on a clear nudge or think-approach most cannot be divided across this line. Instead there are many examples where a nudge and a think- approach can be combined to strengthen each other. Understanding the underlying theory and the differences, strength and weakness of different approaches helps us to see the bigger picture and avoid unintended effects of our actions.