Using Behavior Change to Create Earth Day Level Action Every Day

One billion people in 192 countries around the world today are planting trees and signing petitions; deliberately choosing to be green. Earth Day is hands down the single biggest day of action to protect the environment.

But mitigating and adapting to climate change demands sustained changes in daily behavior – Earth Day, every day.

Last month’s BE.Hive: Climate Change Needs Behavior Change summit – organized by Rare and National Geographic – brought together climate experts, behavioral scientists, business leaders and academics to explore opportunities for shifting behavior to reduce our environmental footprint.

From a behavioral science perspective, climate change is a challenge of status quo biases, risk perception, collective action and loss aversion. Although predictions about the consequences are dire and increasingly evident, we are unsure of when and where the impacts will occur, what the changes will look like and, most importantly, how it will affect us and our families. Research on human behavior and decision-making under uncertainty has revealed that people are more convinced by the concrete than the abstract and give more weight to present sacrifices than future consequences.

Considering the magnitude, complexity and uncertainty, leading behavioral scientist Daniel Kahneman called climate change “a problem that the mind is not equipped to deal with.” By applying behavioral science insights to how we communicate about climate change, however, we can fill in the blanks, nudge people in the right direction and generate action.

Here are four takeaways from Be.Hive:
Using Behavior Change to Create Earth Day Level Action Every Day

Create value through imagery

Data is considerably less meaningful and memorable than images and stories with which we can relate. To change behaviors, present the problem and desired action in ways that are concrete, tangible and relatable. Australian renewable energy company, Epuron, effectively used this strategy to boost public opinion of wind energy by personifying the wind.

Reference social norms

Social norms – the standards we use to judge the appropriateness of our actions – are powerful tools for shaping behavior. The energy company Opower, for example, promoted energy conservation by providing each customer information on how much energy their neighbors were using. Another strategy to inspire sustainable behavior is through dynamic norms – indicate that a new norm is forming. In one study, Stanford researchers found that people are twice as likely to order a vegetarian meal after reading how some people have already started limiting their meat consumption.

Pair fear with action

Fear appeals capture attention but, to influence behavior, must be paired with a sense of action. Behavioral scientists find that fear without a prescription for possible behavior change often results in affirming the status quo because it gives us a feeling of security. Effective communication makes climate change actionable.

Make it personal and actionable

Rare and Project Drawdown identified seven actions, which if adopted by just 10 percent of Americans, would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions enough to hit our target under the Paris Agreement. Now with 59 percent of Americans reporting that climate change is currently affecting their local community, strong communications can move the needle by making climate change personal and actionable.

Team Members

Emma Flanagan_2
Emma Flanagan

Managing Supervisor

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