Understanding human psychology is essential to promoting change in sustainability, including positive responses to the challenge of climate change, and in increasing rates of recycling.

Status[edit | edit source]

The desire and drive for status works against sustainability, as long as it is associated with greater consumption.

In cultures and sub-cultures where waste is frowned upon, the opposite may apply - this is rare, however.

Values and self-interest[edit | edit source]

A strong motivator for behavioral change is self-interest, including financial. This is the reasoning behind a carbon price and other forms of pollutant pricing.

In practice, a pollutant price has to be low enough to be politically acceptable, but high enough to either influence change or provide funds to effectively offset the emissions. Nhis has proven extremely difficult with carbon pricing as fierce opposition has arisen in the USA and Australia, for example, to suggestions of even a modest price.

Community norms[edit | edit source]

A study/case study has been reported which found that signs encouraging recycling had a substantially different effect depending on the wording. "We recycle" resulted in a greater proportion of recycling compared to "Please recycle". It may be that "We recycle" was more inclusive and suggested a community norm, whereas "Please recycle" was an anonymous request which carried little weight.[verification needed][expansion needed] Results of such studies could be expected to vary according to community and language.

Limitations of self-interest[edit | edit source]

A study has found that promoting a sustainable behavior based on self-transcending values (i.e. altruism) had spillover effects in other sustainable behaviors, compared to promoting the same behavior on the basis of self-interest.[1]

Choice architecture[edit | edit source]

Decisions take effort, and with various pressing personal issues facing most individuals, hard decisions about environmental questions tend to be deferred or avoided.

Choice architectureW is the way in which choices are presented, and which defaults are used, in order to influence decisions. The concept has become better known through the book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.[2]

For example:

  • A company wishing to encourage its employees to support environmentally and socially positive business may choose an "ethical investment" fund as the employees' default retirement fund.
  • If company cars are essential, providing hybrid or electric vehicles as the default option can be expected to increase the proportion of employees who choose that option.

Notes and references[edit | edit source]

  1. How strengthening people's altruistic values can help change behaviour, Guardian Professional, Adam Corner, 15 August 2012.
    Self-interest and pro-environmental behaviour by Evans, Maio, Corner, Hodgetts, Ahmed & Hahn 2012 Nature Climate Change, doi:10.1038/nclimate1662
  2. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein: on GoodReads; on Wikipedia.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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Authors Chris Watkins
License CC-BY-SA-3.0
Language English (en)
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Created October 31, 2012 by Chris Watkins
Modified June 9, 2023 by Felipe Schenone
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