Welcome to the April 2010 Wake-Up Call, Awake’s monthly newsletter for research and news about behaviour change for sustainability.


To view this newsletter as a webpage, click here


In this edition of Wake-up Call…


·         Feature Article – A Matter Of Trust

·         Future Workshops – Cultivating Sustainability in Australia and New Zealand

·         60 seconds with… Jill, Wildlife Victoria Volunteer

·         Interesting Article of the Month – Belief In Climate Change Hinges On Worldview

·         Exercise of the Month – Who Do You Trust?


Feature Article – A Matter Of Trust


From the politician promising to act on climate change, through to the door-knocker trying to convince us to sign up to green energy, a certain level of trust needs to be present in order for people to take action on sustainability issues. The very nature of the environmental problems we face means that we are forced to put our faith in the judgment of others in order to see a way forward. By and large, we can’t actually see the CO2 increasing or the Arctic ice shrinking. We have to believe what we are told.

Trust can be defined as the “willingness to be vulnerable” when the trustor is dependent on the trustee for some resources or actions.  A quick look at the various situations encountered in the area of environmental sustainability shows us that, under this definition, trust is relevant. At a national level, are we prepared to commit to measures to curb carbon emissions, placing our trust in other countries to do the same? At a local level, are we prepared to pay extra for that cleaning product which says it is kind to the earth?

Lack of trust has indeed been found to be a significant barrier to people acting on climate change and other environmental issues.  A 2009 paper by the American Psychological Association found that “ample evidence suggests that many people distrust risk messages that come from scientists or government officials”.

It is clear that efforts to communicate environmental issues, and more importantly to engage people in action, will be more successful if we establish trust. So what are the key elements of trust?  A review of the topic by Mayer concludes that 3 elements need to be in place in order for trust to be established

·         Ability – a belief that the person in question can deliver on expectations

·         Benevolence – a belief that they have our best interests at heart

·         Integrity – a belief that they adhere to a set of principles which we find acceptable

It is easy to see how trust can be both won and lost.  For instance, if somebody trying to convince us to adopt green behaviours is not walking the talk themselves, then we are likely to question their integrity – leading to a reduction in trust. The outcry over the energy use of Al Gore’s private residence was a good example of this. Likewise, the recent questions raised over the integrity of some of the climate change data produced by East Anglia University has led to a reduction in trust in the scientific community. Most of those who have experienced this reduction in trust would not have any knowledge of the specifics of the research in question, but the perceived violation of scientific integrity is, in itself, enough to undermine trust.

This analysis of trust raises an interesting question about the persistence of skepticism about climate change. It is well documented that over 90% of the worlds climate scientists believe strongly in man-made climate change, however much distrust still exists within the general community. Usually, scientists are seen as a trustworthy profession. Many psychology experiments have shown that donning a white lab coat does wonders for establishing trust and credibility.

The answer may lie in another element of trust – perceived risk.  Part of trusting involves making ourselves vulnerable. Mayer proposes that only when our level of trust surpasses our level of perceived risk will we engage in a trusting behaviour. If we are to give ourselves over completely to the most dire predictions of climate scientists, nothing short of a radical transformation of our lifestyle is required. For many, this is the ultimate risk, and therefore the threshold for trust is set extremely high. Any whiff of a chink in the armour of those we are being asked to trust is likely to be seized upon as a reason not to take risk of changing our way of life.

As sustainability promoters, there are steps we can take to ensure that we are seen as credible and trustworthy. Here are some tips for establishing trust:

·         Be credible – have facts, evidence and solid arguments prepared. People trust expertise. While passion and idealism are important too, they are not enough on their own.

·         Show you care – meeting people at their level and working with them, rather than telling them what to do and being condescending, will help to establish a relationship and show them that you have their interests in mind.

·         Walk the talk – people need to see that you are putting your words into action, and are being transparent. Nothing undermines trust like hypocrisy.



You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it:


Awake provides psychology-based services to support the development of sustainable behaviour in individuals, groups and organisations.  Visit www.awake.com.au for more info


Future Workshops – Cultivating Sustainability in Australia and New Zealand


Dates for Australian workshops over the next few months are now confirmed, as follows.


Denmark, WA, May 31

Perth, June 2

Sydney, June 29

Melbourne, July 6

Hobart, July 13

Brisbane, August 24


The planned visit to New Zealand has been shifted from May to the first 2 weeks of August.  Thanks to those who have registered interest so far.   Dates for the NZ workshops are as follows


Christchurch, August 2

Nelson, August 3

Wellington, August 5

Auckland, August 11


Note: Some space has been left in the NZ schedule for groups requesting an in-house workshop, in or near any of the locations above, which is a great option if you have a number of people wishing to attend. This can take the form of a full-day Cultivating Sustainability workshop, or a workshop customised to meet the needs of your group.

If you are part of an organisation, green team, or community network that would benefit from an in-house workshop, contact timc@awake.com.au  to discuss.  



More information, including online registration details, is available at www.awake.com.au/cultivating.html


About the Workshop

Cultivating Sustainability is a 1-day workshop which provides sustainability advocates with insights, models and practical tools to support their behaviour change efforts.  Anybody who has taken on the challenge of influencing others to live and work more sustainably will find this workshop a valuable addition to their skills.

Cost:    For-profits $250pp

            Not-for-profit/Government $200pp

            Individuals/Community Groups $120pp


Feedback from attendees of the most recent Cultivating Sustainability workshops included…


“Great framework for encouraging behavioural change within organisations”

“Provided me with tools and insights to challenge me to review how I am approaching my sustainability project”

”This workshop has given me good insight into the motivating factors in people’s behaviour and ways to get lasting change”

“I found the workshop useful to help me learn practical and positive/inspirational ways to change peoples attitudes and behaviours towards sustainability”


For more information about the Cultivating Sustainability workshop, see www.awake.com.au/cultivating.html


60 Seconds with….. Jill, Wildlife Victoria Volunteer


What first got you focused on sustainability?

Watching An Inconvenient Truth. Seeing the facts and figures presented so clearly had a big impact.  Also, seeing the effect of climate change on our own farm, which has required us to change our farming practices.

What is the sustainable choice you have recently made of which you are most proud?

Putting solar panels in at home.

What is a less sustainable choice that you are not so proud of?

Too much packaged stuff – it’s hard to buy recyclable products all the time.


Interesting Article of the Month –  Belief In Climate Change Hinges On Worldview



Belief In Climate Change Hinges On Worldview

By Christopher Joyce

NPR, February 23, 2010


What is it about? 

This article reports on studies into the way in which we interpret information, particularly related to climate change.


What did they find?

Several studies reported in the article show that we often interpret information according to our culture values and worldview. Two people can view the same information and come away with very different conclusions, depending on the extent to which the information supports or challenges our values. In one experiment, people with individualistic values who supported free enterprise were shown information about global warming.  Although initially reluctant to rate the danger of global warming as high, their rating of the danger went up when it was suggested that nuclear power was a solution. The same experiment conducted with more community-oriented people found that their rating of the danger of global warming went down when nuclear energy was mentioned.


What can we take from this?

This research is yet another example of the importance of recognising peoples values and beliefs when communicating about sustainability issues. We need to be mindful that people don’t always analyse facts objectively, and will filter information according to their pre-existing beliefs. If people carry a suspicion about greenies, then this suspicion will cloud the message portrayed by greenies, no matter how solid the facts.  As the authors say “In relation to the climate change debate, this suggests that some people may not listen to those whom they view as hard-core environmentalists.” Instead, communicating through a trusted medium is more likely to get the message through.


Exercise of the Month – Who Do You Trust?


Following on from the feature article above, this months exercise looks at how we came to have trust in some of the green activities we have undertaken.

1.      Think of a green behaviour you have undertaken, or a green product or service you have chosen.

2.      To what extent did the following key elements of trust exist in the provider/promoter?

a.      Ability/Expertise (they were credible)

b.      Benevolence (they had your interests at heart)

c.      Integrity (they adhered to a set of principles you believe in)

3.      What did you risk to take on that behaviour/product/service?

4.      Did the trust you had in the provider/promoter outweigh your perceived risk?


By becoming aware of the elements of trust, not only can we become more discerning consumers, but we can also improve our own ability to establish trust with others.


The exercise of the month provides a tool to help you get engaged, inspired, aware and in action around sustainability.  Feel free to use it on your own, with a friend, or in your work.  If you do use it with others, please tell them where you got it!



About Awake

Awake provides psychology-based services to support the development of sustainable behaviour in individuals, groups and organisations.  Visit www.awake.com.au for more info



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© Awake 2010