Communication & behaviour
Encouraging pro-environmental behaviour in organisations is challenging because sustainability is complex and behaviour occurs in a wide range of contexts. Of course different people have different needs, drivers and values and there may be contradictions in behaviours depending on the situation. The research tells us there is no ‘silver bullet’ and that ‘education’ is not sufficient for change.
Good planning for change often means understanding your audience, encouraging a participatory approach, building social norms and tailoring strategies to fit the situation.
Whether you’re encouraging change in individuals, in settings like workplaces and schools, or at the country level, a combination of strategies will be needed.
Strategies may include marketing, carefully framed and delivered ‘sticky’ messaging and using high profile opinion leaders / early adopters (modelling behaviour) at the outset, including opportunities for interactive dialogue. Prompts, supports, incentives and disincentives can help in some cases, or even humour. Bear in mind that imposing guilt can backfire unless your particular audience is offered personally relevant, positive, tangible, appealing options which are doable in their situation. If there’s a perception that everyone else is doing it, you can boost your chance of success.
In addition, it’s usually necessary to embed systems and policies such as legislation, physical and social infrastructure or other mechanisms (perhaps needing some advocacy to get it going). Systems help people to fall in line with what is expected and socially accepted as normal and appropriate behaviour (social norms). So despite the barriers, behaviour change, cultural change or social change can be successful in time, especially with the right kind of leadership buy-in and organisational values at the start.
Here’s an example of an online tool to help organisations to plan and collaborate on sustainability – gaining buy-in, calculating return on investment, engaging staff, reporting on your success and so on. The tool is called the Village Hive and is offered by Sustainability at Work, an Australian company (website under review).
Here are some more sources and tools which may help in your context, depending on the time and resources you have available to absorb and utilise it all.
Practical resources for consumers on sustainable living
- WA Living Smart program offers a range of fact sheets on many sustainable living topics. Average participating household savings per annum were 1.1 tonnes CO2e- GHG, 19,000 litres of water & $200 lower electricity bills. It was a workshop, phone coaching and information resources campaign.
- The Australian Government has set up two websites with a host of resources to help consumers and organisations solve problems around sustainability including Living Greener and EEX (about energy efficiency).
- Queensland’s ENERGEX and Ergon have established the YourPowerQld site to help navigate energy saving issues for consumers and businesses.
Short publications on encouraging pro-environmental behaviour
- ‘Four key techniques to encouraging pro-environmental behaviour’ (May 2012), from Science for Environment Policy: European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service, edited by SCU, The University of the West of England, Bristol – focussed mainly at the level of individual change.
- ‘Sustainability and Employee Engagement’ (September 2014), by John Davies, GreenBiz Group, supported by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Organisations with resources on pro-environmental behaviours and change:
- BehviourWorks Australia (in association with Monash University)
- Australian Psychological Society (Position paper on psychology and climate change)
- Australian Science Communicators
- Columbia University Psychology of Climate Change Communication, the CRED guide (free)
- George Mason University Centre for Climate Change Communication
- Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication
- The Scottish Government’s Climate Change Behaviours Research Programme (CCBRP) has produced a document library containing sources of evidence on pro-environmental behaviours and behaviour change.
Guides to pro-environmental behaviours and communicating (at an individual, organisational and large scale):
- Your Guide to Communicating Climate Change 2006 from the UK Dept for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- Climate Messaging Guide: Your Guide to Cutting Through the Clutter – a phrasebook by Getup, The Climate Institute and Environment Victoria
- Changing the Carbon Conversation (2011) by the Republic of Everyone for Carbon Communication Awareness Forum (Australia) – aimed at business
- Promoting Pro-Environmental Behaviour: Existing evidence to inform policy making from the UK Dept for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
- An introduction to Thinking about ‘Energy Behaviour’: a Multi Model Approach, written by Dr Tim Chatterton of the University of the West of England for DECC, Dec 2011, provides an introduction to different ways of thinking about the way people use energy.
Books about pro-environmental behaviours, engagement and social change:
- A selection of books by Susanne Moser
- Changeology by Les Robinson, published by Green Books, 2013
- Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society
Books on the role of the media in climate change communication:
- Merchants of Doubt: How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming by Naomi Ereskes and Erik Conway, published by Bloomsbury Press, 2010.
The evidence base and journal articles:
- ‘Mind the Gap: why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior?‘ (2003) by A Kollimus and J Agyeman, Tufts University, USA
- ‘Internal and external influences of pro-environmental behaviour‘ (2003) by Clarke, Kotchen & Moore in the Journal of Environmental Psychology
- ‘Self-interest and pro-environmental behaviour’ (2013) by L Evans et al in Nature Climate Change Vol. 3, 122–125.
- More to come!
Presentations on pro-environmental behaviours:
- Several presentations including ‘Building Organizational Infrastructures for Effective Communication: Five Lessons from Corporate, Government & Academic Experience’ (2002) by E Maibach, George Mason University
- ‘The 7 challenges of behaviour change’ (2012) by Liam Smith for BehaviourWorks Australia
Videos about behaviour change:
- A series from BehaviourWorks Australia – a TEDx talk by Jeni Cross is one example below: ‘Three myths of behaviour change’ (18 minutes)
- An ecoBiz presentation on ‘How to engage your team to adopt ecoBiz practices’ by Andrew Chamberlain (1 hour).
Guides to community engagement:
- There is a large body of literature on community engagement but here is a basic, easy to follow Understanding Community Education and Engagement Fact Sheet from a local organic food growing group (published on www.environment.gov.au)
- Community Engagement – a tertiary education perspective by Australian Catholic University January 2011
Events to watch for about behaviour and sustainability:
- Annual Behaviour Change for Sustainability national congress
- Resources from the above conference held in October 2012
More – see also resources on the Getting to Sustainability website under ‘Basics’ and ‘Resources for Sustainability’ including:
Please be in touch if you would like assistance with accessing or developing any research or tailored tools other than what is available here.