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

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Behaviour Change for Sustainability - Feedback: A Measured Approach

"In recent times we have been presented with plenty of opportunities to measure “how we’re going” with regards to our environmental behaviour. Many power and gas bills now include a graph which shows our total emissions compared to last month, while we are often being invited to measure our carbon footprint through online calculators. Home energy audits are another common initiative being promoted by councils and other various organisations. The assumption is that, by monitoring our resource use, we are more likely to reduce it. But does that assumption hold water?
At first glance, the answer appears to be “yes”. A review of various studies into the impact of audits and other feedback mechanisms reveals that, for the most part, people do indeed subsequently reduce their resource use. Norwegian research found that the inclusion of usage data in electricity bills, including comparisons to previous years consumption, led to significant reductions in electricity use. A 2008 study into the results of a household energy audit program in Western Australia found that 71% of participants reported noticing a decrease in their domestic energy use as a result of participating in the program.
A useful summary of research into the effectiveness of feedback was conducted in 2006 for DEFRA by Sarah Darby, who concludes that “savings have been shown in the region of 5-15% and 0-10% for direct and indirect feedback respectively”.
Why does feedback work? There are a number of plausible mechanisms by which receiving feedback can motivate green behaviour, all of which may apply to some extent.
The most simple explanation is that it gives us a sense of control over our actions. When we are able to see the effect of the changes we are making, we have more of a sense of power and control – factors which have been demonstrated as important drivers of environmentally sustainable behaviour.
Another possible driver of the feedback-behaviour link, particularly where we are actively involved in the feedback process, is the idea of cognitive consistency. This refers to our motivation for our behaviour to match our beliefs and values. If we care enough to get an energy audit done, for instance, then we are likely to consider ourselves engaged in the idea of energy conservation. If we then act contrary to this belief, by failing to take any measures to reduce our energy consumption, we are likely to feel a sense of hypocrisy, or cognitive dissonance. This may have been the case in the findings by the Norwegian researchers cited above, who observed that asking residents to read their own meters and report the data had a particularly strong effect on reducing consumption. The act of being actively involved appears to have cemented the belief that “I am engaged in this process”.
Yet another explanation for the impact of feedback may be that it disrupts our consumption habits. It is generally accepted that habits consist largely of behaviours which are undertaken unconsciously. For instance, leaving the tap on while brushing our teeth is one unconscious behaviour which many people still do, even though it can waste over 4000 litres of water per year. The introduction of feedback may be enough of an intervention to cause people to think about their behaviour and recognise where they could change their habits – without the feedback, people may simply never give it any thought.
Although it is apparent that feedback on its own can have some positive effects, most studies conducted in this area recognise that feedback as a standalone intervention is not guaranteed to produce long-lasting results, and indeed may be a wasted opportunity when not combined with other measures to encourage conservation behaviour. Indeed, most of the studies themselves make use of several tactics to change behaviour. Most commonly, feedback is combined with tips for how people can change their behaviour.
A 2007 Dutch study found that a combination of feedback, goal-setting and tailored information resulted in a 5.1% reduction in household energy use.
A study of “EcoTeams” found that a combination of information, feedback and social interaction resulted in significant changes in household behaviour, including a 32% reduction in waste to landfill. The researchers emphasise the importance of a socially supportive environment in facilitating the likelihood of behaviour change. This may also have the effect of activating the “social norm” which drives us to want to fit in and keep up with others in our community.
To summarise, feedback appears to be a vital part of many behaviour change efforts. Not only does it get people actively engaged and thinking about their behaviour, but it can give them the sense of power and control over their outcomes which is important for motivating them to change. Feedback can be an even more effective tool when combined with other tactics which support behaviour change."

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+