We asked Anna Strumia, our very own behavioural science guru, to give us some insight into what science says about driving behavioural change within individuals and how this can apply to the future of sustainability.
Hi guys! I have an MSc in Human Decision Science, which is within the field of Behavioural Economics, and my work mainly consists of applying behavioural insights to solving practical problems.
I think Environmental Sustainability is a cause we all fall in love with very easily, but translating our intentions into real actions within our daily lives is not as immediate.
Conditions can vary depending on the scope of your goal. You always need a goal and a target audience, the rest is variable. The beauty of ECo is that you guys work bottom-up, you work to impact the actions of individuals through a community, thus allowing for direct contact that the government or large scale communication campaigns can’t achieve, and this gives you a better chance to drive changes that stick.
There’s a sub-field of behaviour change called boosting, which I think is just up your street. Boosting sets itself apart from the classic strategy of nudging because it requires more effort but drives a long-lasting change in behaviours.
The main difference is that if you boost a behaviour you can remove the influence shortly after, and people will keep up the new behaviour, whilst if you nudge a behaviour and then remove the influence, people will revert back to the initial behaviour. Boosting is effective in the long-term, but requires more effort from the influencers in order to happen, nudging is cheaper to achieve, but its effects stop once the influence is removed.
Mainly due to these differences, nudging is popular as it reaches a higher number of people at small costs, but if you have the resources and capability to boost we all can agree that boosting is to be preferred, especially in the case of sustainability.
I can see ECo being very effective in boosting its community directly and then enabling people to nudge others.
Absolutely, what impressed me most when working on international projects in the realm of sustainability is how much culture has to do with people’s interpretations of the concept and consequently their approach towards it. This impacts their decision-making process when it comes to making a sustainable choice, as a different understanding of what is important when directing people’s motivation towards different goals. For example, in Italy people seem to be extremely conscious about packaging, the use of plastic is the first thing they look at to judge product sustainability, while in France people are more interested in the production process and understanding what toll on the environment a product and its maker have had throughout the production life cycle.
I absolutely agree with you!
I’d say there’s no perfect strategy that fits all, but there are lots of effective tools one can deploy, and depending on the #ECochangers’ style, availability and goals within the community, they can easily find what works for them!
I always like to look at behaviour as the result of 3 factors:
Capability and Motivation are complementary, so if one tends to below the other must be high to compensate. For example, let’s say the desired behaviour is that I ride my bike to work. If my capability to ride a bike is high (I’m super fit and love to ride). I don’t need much motivation to choose to ride to work; on the other hand, if my capability is low (I’m out of shape, don’t enjoy riding or don’t know how to) my motivation needs to be very high to push me to overcome these difficulties.
Although, when it comes to Opportunity, the higher the levels of opportunity the better. In our example, a high opportunity would entail me owning a good bike, work not being too far from home, having a bike rack at the office and where to take a shower, and so on.
One can influence all 3 of these components in different ways:
You can educate to increase capability: remember we tend to assume people share our point of view and sometimes people are afraid of what they don’t know, so they end up overestimating the effort required. Education can even just consist of pointing out what you think is obvious!
You can lead by example to increase motivation and tell everyone about it: peer to peer communication and social emulation are very strong influencers of behaviour.
You can tweak the environment to increase opportunity and make it easier for people to act on intentions: you can do your part directly, but don’t be shy to ask the big guys for help! You’d be surprised by the positive feedback you get from companies and local governments towards suggestions to improve behaviour patterns.