Nudging Towards Sustainability


Did you know that we make 45% of everyday choices unconsciously? It’s a coping mechanism that helps us deal with the bombardment of choices we face daily.

On June 1, 2017, US President Trump declared that the United States was going to exit the Paris Agreement, an agreement to reduce global carbon emissions to slow down climate change. The agreement was signed under the former United States President Obama, promising to cut US emissions 26-28% of their 2005 levels by 2025.

In the struggle of what information is stored vs. forgotten, survival of the fittest prevails. We are most definitely biased when it comes to what resonates and leads to behavioral change- it’s usually the outside that counts. Like picky eaters, we won’t digest just anything. Too long, complicated or demanding messages won’t make the cut.

Nudging is a proven tactic of distributing smaller parcels of information in a convenient way and unobtrusively leading the receiver towards your intended outcome.

So how can we nudge for sustainability?

  1. Serve information in small easily understandable portions and make them actionable. Sustainability issues, particularly climate change can seem complex, distant and overwhelming- people can easily tune out or feel defeated. Small bits of information at time, along with clear and concrete call to actions can turn that around.

  2. Change the physical environment to suit your purpose. If your recycling bins are way off south of I don’t know where, the nearby trash cans will most likely be overflowing. Switch them around and you’ll find people aren’t necessarily as opposed to recycling as they are to navigate new territories.

Stores are usually designed in a way that encourages customers to buy more. For example, the vast expanse of sweets and trinkets found by registers, where waiting customers are easily enticed to take the bait. The same method can be applied for the opposite effect. Using smaller plates at mealtimes is a proven method for making people take less food- both reducing overeating and food waste.

  1. Make the sustainable option the default. That way people will need to opt out of sustainability rather than actively opt in. For example, make double-sided printing the default setting on all your office printers. Your co-workers won’t need to actively think about making the sustainable choice or deter from their normal behavior.

  2. Show progress and results made. Competition can speed up changes as other people’s actions will influence our own choices. So, if we see other departments/colleagues saving energy or doing other great things, we will be more inclined to partake.

Need help nudging your colleagues along your intended path? SustainOnline can help. Our Academy uses nudging tactics to get everybody listening. Plus, you will get to share our knowledge and tools developed from years of experience and successful frameworks.


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