Follow Jessica on Twitter @CrossAndLeaves or follow the Five Leaf Eco-Awards @fiveleafeco

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Behaviour Change for Sustainability - Doing It For The Money

"For a large percentage of individuals and organisations, the most compelling case for engaging in environmentally sustainable behaviours is to save money, or make money. For that reason, the most popular green initiatives appear to be the ones where it can be demonstrated that it will be good for the bottom line. Changing to energy efficient light bulbs, for instance, is one such measure. Making a house more draft resistant in order to save on heating costs is another.
At corporate level, leaders often need to see the dollar benefits prior to signing off on green initiatives. Preferably these benefits take the form of cold hard cash savings, but there is increasing recognition of the importance to the balance sheet of good corporate citizenship and employee attractiveness.
This raises the question – does money work effectively as a motivator for green behaviours, and under which circumstances?
There is a fair amount of evidence which suggests that, yes, financial considerations do have an impact on our behaviour when it comes to the environment. A 2005 review of research into household energy savings found that, by and large, measures such as providing monetary rewards for electricity savings have proved to be successful. Fluctuations in petrol prices have also proven to be a powerful motivator for seeking alternatives to driving to work, providing further evidence of the impact of money on our decisions.
There are, however, a number of limitations to the so-called “rational-economic model”, which assumes that people’s engagement in certain behaviours is determined by whether or not it is in their financial interests to do so. For instance, the 2005 review outlined above found that, although financial incentives showed success for initial engagement in sustainable behaviours, the effects were often short-lived. These findings were echoed by De Young, who found that the effects of incentives often wore off when the financial reinforcement was discontinued.
Another review, by Gonzales, examined the ineffectiveness of a large-scale energy audit program in the USA, which provided free energy audits and incentives to undertake energy saving retrofits. The study concluded that the reason for the poor uptake of energy-efficient actions was due to the lack of persuasive communication by the auditors – in other words, people need to be able to ­see the financial benefits of acting. Gonzales demonstrated this theory by training a group of auditors in persuasion techniques, which greatly increased the uptake of energy efficient actions in those households visited by the trained auditors.
There is also a strong body of evidence which suggests that our reason for adopting green behaviours will influence the degree to which we stick with them in the long term. This theory contends that, when we make a green choice for the sake of the environment (rather than just money), we are more likely to see ourselves as pro-environment, and therefore more likely to adopt similar behaviours which will help reinforce this perception of ourselves. This effect has been demonstrated in relation to social responsibility by Burger and Caldwell, who observed that “Participants given $1 to sign a homelessness petition were less likely to see themselves as altruistic than participants not given the monetary incentive. The paid participants also complied less often with a request to work on a canned food drive 2 days later than unpaid participants”.
Therefore, if our aim is to promote a range of pro-environment behaviours by providing an initial incentive to get people started, we may find that indeed the target behaviour increased, but there is no evidence to suggest that this will spill over to other green behaviours (something discussed at length in the WWF article Simple and Painless)
There are a couple of areas where the provision or emphasis of a financial incentive can have a worthwhile effect on increasing the uptake of green behaviour.
The first is where we want people to take a single action in order to reduce their ongoing impact on the planet. For example, an incentive to purchase a more energy efficient appliance or vehicle will have lasting effects, even if the purchase behaviour itself is short-term. In this case, we are unlikely to be concerned with the reason for the purchase, and whether any change in attitude occurred – just getting people to undertake that one green purchasing behaviour is the sole purpose.
The second way in which an incentive can play an important role in promoting sustainable behaviour is by acting as a disruptor of habitual behaviour. Habits are held in place by stable, recurring conditions which make it easy for us to perform the behaviour without thinking or weighing up the pros and cons each time. It has been demonstrated that a disruption to those conditions can be enough to cause us to re-examine our habitual behaviour, and potentially trial and adopt a new, more sustainable habit. A change in the “pay-off” may be enough to serve as a disruptor, as demonstrated in a study by Fujii & Kitamura , who found that providing a free one-month bus ticket to drivers led to a significant and sustained increase in bus use among those drivers. In this case, the purpose of the incentive is to provide a stimulus to encourage a trial of a new behaviour, rather than as an ongoing reinforcer of that behaviour.
To summarise, financial incentives appear to have some value in triggering short term changes in behaviour. Where the short term is enough to satisfy our aim, either by encouraging an immediate behaviour which has a long-term effect, or by activating a trial of a new behaviour, then financial incentives are a valuable inclusion in the behaviour change toolkit."

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

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+