Last night I was lucky enough to pop in on the launch of Adrian Ramsay’s (Green Party) election campaign at Dragon Hall, Norwich – not because I was invited but because my fellar was playing music there.
In the short time I was there I met two chaps from the Cambridge Vegan Society – one was chatty, friendly, upbeat and ‘connecting’, the other a little more distant and less engaging. When I did speak to the second man, he started lecturing me about meat consumption’s carbon footprint, the need to act now (‘it’s too late to take small measures’) and the need to think of our children’s future (pointing at my children). He was preaching to a semi-converted person but he managed to get my heckles up with his slightly forceful tone.
Which set me off thinking about behaviour change and how you could get people to ‘go green’? I know the hard facts alone do not work as this chap illustrated. In fact too many hard, fast and tragic facts seem to make people fatalistic. i.e. if it’s all gloom and doom, what’s the point of even trying?
I know from my field of work that behaviour change is a complex issue. Saving the environment will take a huge shift in social attitudes and - unfortunately – that rarely happens overnight.
I will take smoking as an example of a behaviour that can be changed – a far more simple issue than environment saving – but some of the 'changing behaviour' concepts might transfer across..
1) Highlighting the negative impact of smoking – this on its own does not seem to stop young people from smoking. The long-term health impacts seem too distant and therefore irrelevant to the person.
2) Highlight the benefits of not smoking – motivating towards and not motivating away – this is better! (see earlier blog)
3) Making giving up smoking easier by using nicotine replacement – this does help. Business (a very motivated force) is behind producing nicotine replacement therapies.
4) Highlighting non-smoking as a social norm – pointing out that most people do not smoke. This has an impact because if we perceive everyone else is doing something – we are more likely to.
5) Make people aware of the choice to smoke and not to smoke and discuss the reasons behind why each decision might be made with a view to acknowledging the ‘harder’ decision might have some negative impact but it is for the greater good - e.g. highlight peer pressure/influence, cost, impact on personal lifestyle, social acceptance, inconvenience etc
6) Change the law For example: no smoking in confined places. This appears to have stopped some passive smoking and some people might have given up because they can no longer smoke in a pub. Some people were up in arms about this law at first, but it appears to have been accepted (many people approve and those that don’t seem to understand why this law was appropriate for most indoor spaces) and policed with fairly strong penalties. Would this law alone stop a government from being re-elected?
7) Plan for change – willpower alone cannot always be relied upon to give up smoking. If people are aware of times when they would be vulnerable to reverting to smoking, they can plan to avoid these times or plan to find something to distract themselves.
8) Change the messages in the media – less smokers on TV, smoking not advertised, use positive role models
My conclusion about behaviour change for the benefit of the environment therefore is: don’t be too fatalistic about the state of the environment, make some laws that mean businesses develops some palatable green alternatives and make ‘green behaviour’ the attractive and perceived social norm using the media.
One last point: I also think that if this issue is only ever presented in global terms – it can be too overwhelming. Small steps that individuals have control over are far more digestible. As my fine chap put it to me over a decade ago, ‘I like to think that I will be responsible for causing as little damage as possible to this planet in my time on it.’