Communicating to engage citizens in sustainable practices has proven a challenge to many municipalities and organizations. A lot of messaging is riddled with doom and gloom, and while sometimes necessary, it can be a turn off for many people. The issues may seem too big or too distant, both of which can lead to apathy. Even when an environmental issue hits close to home it doesn't always lead to the behaviour change that will counteract it. After some serious head shaking and vows to do things differently, most people return to their usual habits and tend not make any changes in their behaviour.
You would think it would be easier. Rationally, most people get that if enough of us change our behaviours to live more sustainably, the cumulative effect will have great impact. But our habits and emotions get in the way, particularly if we don't see our friends making changes either. To drive behaviour change, then, making it easy, making it matter, and making it social are important. And, perhaps most important of all, is making it fun. Here are four examples that can help people lead more sustainable lives.
Even when we know what we should do, it doesn't always guide what we actually do. Most people know that conserving water is important. Most don't know how much water they really use. Products like the ECO Showerdrop put that information front and center. A fun display shows how much water you've used and when it's time to turn off the water.
Everyone likes to help their friends. A unique site in the UK gets people to think about reducing their carbon footprint while supporting their friends. The DoNation encourages people to sponsor their friends' activities by making sustainable commitments instead of donating money. From the DoNation website:
1. People prefer hugging friends than trees: Most people aren't motivated by doing green things to 'save the planet', they have busy lives and more pressing priorities; like supporting their friends.
2. We love group hugs more than anything: We humans are social animals; we like to support our friends together, as a big social group. Our individual actions often seem so insignificant, but together they add up to create a meaningful impact. Sponsorship plays on this in a fantastically powerful way.
3. Money doesn't solve everything: Unlike most other charitable causes, the environment needs our action more than our money. Individuals are at the root of the environmental solution, not research institutions or international aid organisations, and we simply need to act.
While not intended as a sustainability driver, the social site Pinterest has emerged as an easy way for users to share environmentally-friendly products and behaviours (like upcycling old items into the new via do-it-yourself projects). The site allows users to post images from around the web on their own virtual pin boards. The images are shared with a user's followers and can be re-pinned to their boards with one click. Pinners can easily see what matters to their friends, share what resonates with them, and get a boost of satisfaction when their own sustainability-minded images are re-pinned by others.
Another online site, Recyclebank, rewards people for their green behaviours and encourages users to share green tips with their friends. Users of the site receive points for things like recycling, energy-efficiency, reducing water usage, using green products and taking short quizzes about sustainable living. The points can then be redeemed for rewards with participating companies.
In 2009, Volkswagen and ad agency DDB Stockholm launched The Fun Theory to see if making activities fun could make people change their behaviour. They created a subway staircase that played like a piano to encourage people to take the stairs, made a recycling station into an arcade, and made it sound as though trash deposited in a garbage bin was making a 50-foot drop.
All of these delighted passersby and the videos were viewed millions of times, further spreading the message.
While most of us like to think that we do good for the sake of doing good, sometimes the nudge of a reward or recognition can get us started or convince us to do even more. We'd like to see this concept adopted by more companies and municipalities. Why? Because rewards, recognition and fun activities make us feel good. When we feel good, we're more likely to repeat the behaviour that made us feel good. And when that feel-good behaviour is an environmentally-friendly one, it takes us one step closer to a sustainable future.
Image via Flickr user Combined Media