5 incentives that create sustainable behaviour

Posted by | · · · | The Hunter Blog | 2 Comments on 5 incentives that create sustainable behaviour

The coming Carbon Reduction Commitment measures and demands business pay for any increase in carbon output. Most businesses see technological advance as the only way to manage carbon output. Few consider their human capital as…

Well, few consider their human capital at all. But in their hands lies behaviour patterns that can deliver almost costless carbon reductions. Or, if you’re not careful, very expensive carbon increases. Behaviour is important. What simple ways can you create behaviour that delivers carbon reductions?

Here’s our list of 5 incentives:

  1. Ask people to indicate the extent to which they think energy efficiency is a good thing. You get to engage people’s cool, calm, rational brain – the part that’s used to plan an early start in the morning, rather than the bit that hits the snooze button (over and over again).
  2. Make it a public. We’re much more likely to be consistent with a promise made in public than one made in private – who wants to look like a hypocrite?
  3. Focus on what stands to be lost instead of what stands to be gained. Loss aversion is such a strong quirk of ours it almost feels like cheating to use it. Broadly speaking we feel 1 unit of happiness if we gain £100, but feel 2 units of pain if we lose £100.
  4. Tell them what their neighbors are doing.. As soon as we find out a behaviour of ours might be considered a little strange our automatic response is to correct it in favour of the ‘norm’.
  5. Tell them what experts are saying. The Authority effect means people likely to obey and believe experts.

Notice that none of the points I’ve raised involve a catchy slogan or an image to try and describe the effect carbon has on the world – because neither willingness nor simple exposure to messages has a great deal of impact on people’s behaviour. A more sophisticated understanding is required to overcome barriers to action.

And it’s those barriers that are the next great frontier.

“When we look at the remaining potential for efficiency, changing consumer behavior is the next wave of savings that needs to be tapped.” says Tim Stout, vice-president of energy efficiency at [Massachusetts utility] National Grid.

As Dr. Robert Cialdini – the ex-Regents’ Professor of Psychology and Marketing Arizona State University – put it, you simply need to

“…marginalise undesirable behaviour.”

What do you think?

Oliver Payne is author of the cognitive-behavioural communication book Inspiring Sustainable Behaviour: 19 Ways To Ask For Change published by Routledge,available in most countries on Amazon, etc, (options here), and you can download a sample of every chapter below:


@donkshophorse says:

February 19, 2010 at 6:32 pm

I couldn't agree more that "most businesses see technological advance as the only way to manage carbon output". I see this frequently in areas such as education, where over complex designs forget the end user, consequently the technology installed does not work as designed and energy use is therefore much higher than anticipated. As a designer I have always tried to get understanding from all the occupants of a building about how energy is consumed and how they can interact with the installed systems. When you engage with all occupants you are more likely to get the behavioural change that ensures the installed technology is effective.


TheHunterBlog says:

February 20, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Thank you for your comments – you make some good points.


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