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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Behaviour Change for Sustainability - Consciousness & Competence

"Is there a skill involved in living sustainably? If we decide that that answer is “yes”, then it might be useful to consider ways in which that skill is developed. One valuable model for examining skill development is known as “The Four Stages of Competence” (although is referred to by other names also. See Wikipedia for some background). The model illustrates that learning a new skill can involve 4 distinct stages of consciousness and competence, as follows
1. Unconscious Incompetence – where we don’t know what we don’t know. We are either not aware that we lack a certain skill, or we are deluded about our lack of skill
2. Conscious Incompetence – where we are aware that we lack a skill. This is where we know that we are incompetent at something. This can be a bit frustrating and disillusioning, but is also the first stepping stone to learning a skill, as it contains an acknowledgement that we need to improve.
3. Conscious Competence – where we have a skill, but we have to concentrate to perform it effectively. At this level, we have developed the ability to perform a task, but it takes a lot of our mental resources in order to do it well.
4. Unconscious Competence – where we can do it without thinking. This is where we have integrated a skill so well that we do not have to dedicate many of our mental resources to performing it. We talk about it coming naturally, being instinctual or “like riding a bike”.

How can we apply this model to educating people to act more sustainably? Firstly, it should be acknowledged that “incompetence” is probably not a constructive label for behaviour which we would like to influence. There is a good chance that people will react badly if we label their transport choices, water use, or recycling behaviour as “incompetent”. However, in the interests of examining the model, we will stick with the original labels, while acknowledging their limitations.

Although the Four Stages model is usually applied to conventional skill development, it also makes sense when we apply it to behaviour related to sustainability. For instance, in relation to recycling behaviour, we see the following levels

1. Unconscious Incompetence – We don’t know that things can be recycled, and continue to throw paper, glass, plastics etc in the general waste bin.
2. Conscious Incompetence – We have found out that there are a lot of things which we are throwing in the waste bin which could be recycled. But we are choosing not to bother, or perhaps are not sure which things are able to be recycled. Maybe we are feeling a bit rebellious about it, or guilty, but our behaviour has not changed.
3. Conscious Competence – We are now taking care to recycle as much as we can remember. Every time we go to put something in the waste bin, a voice inside our heads reminds us to check if it can be recycled. It is taking a bit of effort, but we are doing an OK job.
4. Unconscious Competence – Recycling is now our default behaviour. We automatically choose recyclable products, and our first instinct is to use the recycling bin, rather than the waste bin – which is only there as a last resort .

Knowing that these different levels exist can be useful for any educators, including those who are trying to influence behaviour related to sustainability. If we can identify at which level our target audience is currently operating, we can more effectively choose an intervention.

Moving from Level 1 to Level 2 can be achieved by simple awareness raising. Recognising that there is something different we could be doing is an important step in behaviour change. If we don’t know it’s broke, we can’t fix it. Role modelling can also assist at this point. When people see something being done differently, they often relate it to their own behaviour and recognise the gap.

The step from Level 2 to Level 3 involves skill development or attitude change. This can range from water saving tips around the home or education in composting skills, through to providing incentives and outlining the benefits of acting sustainably.

Lastly, moving from Level 3 to Level 4 requires the formation of habits. While some habits are undesirable from a sustainability point of view, they can also work in our favour. When something becomes habitual, we no longer have to invest many mental resources in it, and we are likely to be consistent in our behaviour. We can support the formation of habits by providing stable, consistent conditions for that behaviour to be performed (eg. a regular recycling service, reliable public transport) (Habits are discussed in more detail in a previous Wake-Up Call).

If more people can be supported to increase their “competence” around sustainability, to the point where it is no longer a difficult choice, but rather a natural way of living, then we can not only invest our time and resources in the next group of people to influence, but we also have a new set of allies and role models at our side."

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+