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Monday, April 19, 2010

Behaviour Change for Sustainability - Identity

"Many of our behavioural choices are driven by what we believe about ourselves. This set of beliefs about who we are and what we care about is called our self-identity (or self-concept).

The reason that self-identity is of interest to those who seek to influence behaviour change is that, if we can link the desired behaviour to the individuals identity, they are more likely to adopt it. One of the mechanisms by which identity influences behaviour is through our desire to maintain congruence between who we think we are and our actions, thus maintaining “cognitive consistency”, and avoiding the discomfort of “cognitive dissonance” (see Wake-Up Call Feb 2008 for more on the latter).

The power of self-identity in predicting behaviour was demonstrated in a 2008 study, in which the researchers added self-identity to a set of factors already included in a widely accepted model for predicting green behaviour. It was found that “self-identity emerged as an independent predictor of environmental activism intentions, indicating that the stronger participants’ sense of themselves as environmental activists, the greater their intentions to engage in this behaviour”. While this is not immediately surprising, it should be remembered that there is a very large gap between people’s reported concern for environmental matters, and their subsequent actions. Therefore, the quest to isolate the psychological factors which do predict green behaviour occupies a lot of attention for environmental educators.

This all begs the question as to how we harness the power of identity as a tool for effective behaviour change. The world of marketing may provide some answers. Marketers have long known about identity, and have fashioned a whole science around “consumer identity marketing”. A good discussion of some of the relevant concepts of identity-based marketing can be found here. The article uses the example of Nike’s “just do it” slogan, where “the whole idea is to try to link the Nike brand name to the athlete identity in such a way that the various products (shoes, watches, and clothing) become like a “prop” in terms of helping consumers enact their athlete identities.”

Americus Reed, a leading researcher on identity-related marketing, describes in a 2005 article the factors involved in invoking an identity through communication. The identity must be…

· Salient – meaning we have to be thinking about ourselves in that way when the message is delivered.
· Self-important - that is, it needs to be a powerful identity for us that we have a lot invested in.
· Relevant to the product – meaning that we must perceive a strong link between the product (or behavioural choice) being presented, and the identity which is being linked to it.
· Provides a basis to respond – it must be clear that “this what we need to do in order to make a choice which is consistent with this identity”

If we were to consider this list in terms of promoting a green behaviour, then an identity-based approach to selling the green message would be most effective when people are concerned about green issues and how they relate to them personally (salience & self-importance), and it must be clear to them exactly which behavioural choice is most environmentally friendly (relevance), and how to adopt it (basis to respond).

This checklist can present a few challenges. In order to increase the salience of an identity, something must occur to get people thinking about themselves through that identity. Therefore, the most effective timing to prompt the green identity will be when people are feeling particularly green, such as when they are taking public transport, making a green purchasing decision, or attending a function where the green message is being communicated. If this is not possible, then the message must include something to get people thinking about themselves in relation to the environment.

While salience is a temporary state which can be prompted, self-importance is a more solid attitude which may be less easily prompted. If a target audience does not view themselves as environmentally minded, it will be a tall order to appeal to an environmental identity. In that regard, one may be better off designing an approach which recognises the extent to which a green option is consistent with an identity which this group ­does hold, such as a one which is family-oriented, or innovate, or savvy.

Fortunately, there is some evidence that repetition can lead to the development of identity. This means that if we can get people to try a behaviour a number of times (perhaps by providing a short-term incentive), then they will start to create a belief that “I am this type of person”. Once this identity is in place, then it should be easier to engage them in future behaviours which fit with that identity."

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+