Communication & behaviour
Encouraging pro-environmental behaviour and ESG support 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. Systems and contextual factors play a major role.
Good planning for change often means understanding your audience, encouraging a participatory approach, building social norms and tailoring strategies to fit the situation. It also means both hard and soft infrastructure to shape individuals and teams with intent and insight.
That is, a combination of well-researched strategies will be needed.
Strategies may go beyond sticks and carrots or carefully framed and delivered ‘sticky’ messaging and using high profile opinion leaders / early adopters (modelling behaviour). 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.
Remember that behaviours and cultures don’t transform in organisations without planning and collaboration to gain buy-in and maintain effort.[Beware that some people may feel overwhelmed about the urgency of climate-action and there is a large body of research about the importance of emphasising solutions as well as problems to address.]
- ‘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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- ‘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!
- 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
- 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.