Collectively, our individual or household behaviours have a significant impact on climate change, pollution and natural resource depletion, among many other significant environmental issues that affect our quality of life and the economy.
However, even if we express concern about environmental issues such as these, most often this does not translate into behaviour. Psychological research confirms that it is difficult to relate our own individual consumption and behaviour to large-scale problems.
Policy interest in tools or nudges designed to gently influence our behaviour is growing. These are perceived as less paternalistic than taxes or regulatory restrictions, for instance. Successful examples include energy bills that compare your usage to your neighbours’, and pledge schemes whereby individuals vow to perform certain behaviours. Although nudge approaches are effective in some cases, evidence suggests that other measures also influence behaviour and may be more appropriate in certain situations.
The most effective measure for changing behaviour – or combination of measures – depends on the goal. For example, recycling waste is a relatively simple activity, and ensuring that it is convenient for householders to do so, can successfully increase recycling rates.
However, conserving energy in the home is a much more complex behaviour, and so more sophisticated approaches are more likely to reduce consumption. ‘Social modelling’, where people observe or interact with others who already undertake energy-efficiency measures, for example, has been effective.
The evidence suggests that a mixture or ‘bundles’ of carefully-selected measures increase the chances of changing behaviour. This may involve striking a strategic balance between encouraging and enforcing.
Behavioural change is a complex task, that requires complex solutions which produce complex results, the report concludes. This should not deter innovators from trying new methods, but emphasis should be on developing policies based on a sound evidence-base.
The ‘Green Behaviour’ policy brief from Science for Environment Policy outlines current scientific theory, thinking and research in the field. Green behaviour is inherent in several EU policy initiatives, such as the 2008 EU Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan, which is due for review this year. Green behaviour will also be linked to the Resource Efficiency flagship initiative as part of the Europe 2020 strategy.
The ‘Green Behaviour’ issue of Science for Environment Policy is the fourth in its series of Future Briefs – reports which provide an accessible overview of emerging areas of science and technology to help inform evidence-based policy.
Source: Science for Environment Policy, European Commission.