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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Behaviour Change for Sustainability - The Importance of Being a Role Model

"A friend (we shall refer to her as “N”), who had previously been reluctant to consider cycling the flat 4km to her workplace, astounded me by revealing that she had purchased a scooter (the non-motorised kind) for the daily commute. What prompted this change of heart? “As I started my drive to work one day, I noticed a neighbour setting off on her scooter. Nearing my office after about 20min of sitting in peak hour traffic, my neighbour zipped past me on her scooter. I thought, ‘if she can do it, so can I”. This story is a simple, yet powerful, illustration of the influence of role models on our own behaviour.

Our willingness to adopt a new way of doing things can be stimulated by a lot of factors. One of them is through seeing that our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours tried it and it worked for them.

To what extent are people influenced by others to perform environmentally friendly behaviours? Some investigations have been undertaken, although the research in this area is a bit limited.

A study in 1998 compared the formative influences of a 9-nation sample of people engaged in environmental action. Although direct contact with nature throughout ones life was considered the most important precursor to environmental commitment, the influence of other people was 2nd highest, mentioned by 40% of those interviewed. 22% of Australian interviews cited the influence of “friends” as an important factor in shaping their environmental views. In reviewing the literature in this field, the authors comment that “as early as the 1940s and 1950s, researchers had demonstrated that mass media directly influence a small part of their audience at best, but that face-to-face contacts with other people influence most people”.

In terms of the direct influence of others on behaviour change, a notable study was undertaken in the Netherlands, where researchers looked at the diffusion of information about a community energy conservation program, and people’s willingness to adopt the measures it recommended. The study found that peoples awareness of the program was directly related to the quantity of contacts they had within their community, while their decision to adopt the measures was related to the strength of their ties in the community. In other words, if people interacted regularly with their neighbours, they were more likely to hear about the program. Furthermore, if they felt that the people they interacted with were trustworthy and had their interests at heart, they were more likely to adopt the measures recommended in the program.

Finally, a study of energy conservation measures by Darley and Beniger presented a strong case that “information which determines peoples perceptions of innovations is more likely to be transmitted via social networks rather than mass media or other channels of communication”. The authors discuss the adoption of these measures in terms of a theory of innovation, which proposes that we consider 5 key factors before adopting an innovation

a) The relative advantage of the new innovation over our current system
b) The compatibility with our values
c) The complexity of the innovation
d) The trialability (can we try before we buy?)
e) The observability of the benefits (can we see them?)

Effective role modelling can be seen to perform a number of these functions. Let’s take the earlier anecdote, re my friend with the scooter. The relative advantage was evident, as “N” could see that her neighbour got to work at least as fast, and probably with less cost and stress (this covers “observability” as well). Value compatibility is less obvious to the observer, but “N” seemed pretty happy with her decision. Riding a scooter does not seem too complex (in fact, “N” commented that the neighbour did not look especially athletic!). Trialability was not required in this case, although could be handled by borrowing a scooter, or test-driving one at the shop.

Therefore, not only does role modelling give the impression of a social norm of environmental responsibility, at a more specific level it can provide the conditions for others to try a new behaviour that they have previously not considered, or deemed too hard, expensive or ineffective.

If your aim is to provide leadership in the area of environmental stewardship, then role modelling is an effective, easy way to start. You don’t need to lecture people, have difficult conversations, or tell people they are wrong. There are, however, a few ways you can help the process along, and make your own behaviours more contagious

· Make it visible
· Tell people about it
· Demonstrate it to them
· Provide people with resources and information for doing it
· Help them, or join them, in getting started

The great thing is, role modelling is exponential. If your acquaintances go on to become role models themselves, then we stand a good chance of reaching the tipping point in sustainable behaviours which our society and planet are in desperate need of."

This article was sourced from Awake -
Awake provides psychology-based services to support the development of sustainable behaviour in individuals, groups and organisations. Visit for more info

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+