Welcome to the December 2008 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 – 5 Useful Things to Know About People

·          Workshop Review – Cultivating Sustainability in NZ

·          60 seconds with… Katie Nimmo from Community Energy Action

·          Interesting Article of the Month – Voluntary Adoption of Green Electricity

·          Upcoming Presentation – Awake at the Sustainable Living Festival 2009

·          Exercise of the Month – Is There Another Way?


Feature Article – 5 Useful Things to Know About People


Nearing the end of the year, it seems appropriate to present a bit of a “review” article.  More specifically, we’re going to take a look at a few things which research has shown us about the way most people think, feel and act, and why it is beneficial to know these things if we are attempting to change behaviour.


1.  We like to be normal.

Research into social norms has shown us repeatedly that people will “follow the herd” in an attempt to be seen as fitting in.  If we believe X behaviour is “the done thing”, then we are likely to do it.  From giving money to a busker in the street, to recycling,  studies have demonstrated the powerful effect of observing others’ behaviour.


How can we apply this to behaviour change for sustainability? If we can communicate that most people are doing the right thing, then others are more likely to change their behaviour.   A good example of this was an intervention to increase hotel towel re-use, where the success of a sign in the bathroom which read “help save the environment”, was compared to one which read “join your fellow guests in helping to save the environment”.  Guests prompted by the latter sign were 34% more likely to re-use their towels.


2.      We like to be consistent

Nobody likes to feel like a hypocrite.  Whenever we are aware that we are acting in a way which is at odds with something we believe, we not only feel uncomfortable, but we want to do something about it.  Most times we search for, and find, an excuse which soothes our conscience so we can carry on our day undisturbed.   But it is also at these times that a call to action for behaviour change can be most effective.  A more thorough overview of this area can be found in the Feb 2008 edition of Wake-Up Call


How can we apply this to behaviour change for sustainability? The key here is a make people aware of the gap between their beliefs and their actions.  A lot of our actions are on autopilot and go unexamined.  If we can create a situation where people are acutely aware of their beliefs or values, then contrast this with their behaviour, a window of opportunity is opened for people to consider alternative behaviours with a more open mind.


3.  We need to control things

We are more likely to act if we feel that our actions make a difference.  Our sense of personal control over environmental outcomes is a strong predictor of our pro-environmental behaviours, according to a number of studies.  (see Wake-Up Call from Jan 2008 for more on control).  Furthermore, studies of the most effective way to influence people to take action on environmental issues reveal the importance of giving people a say in how they engage. 


How can we apply this to behaviour change for sustainability? Recognising that people need to feel in control, and that their actions make a difference, is an important consideration in designing behaviour change interventions.  We can start by providing people with options to engage, rather than telling them what to do.  Then let them know the impact of their actions in a meaningful way.


4.  We are creatures of habit

As many as 50% of our daily behaviours are habitual, and it is a safe bet that a number of unsustainable actions fit into the definition of habits.  A feature of habitual behaviours is that they are often unconscious, and rely on the existence of a stable and reliable set of conditions.  Performing a task as an action allows for a degree of predictability in our lives, and saves us having to constantly negotiate a new decision with every action.


How can we apply this to behaviour change for sustainability? Having defined a certain behaviour as a habit, we can then set out to identify the conditions which hold it in place.  This provides an opportunity to change those conditions in order to facilitate a more considered and reasoned decision – hopefully one which will be take a more long-term perspective, with a little prompting and support.


5.  We do care about the environmental issues facing us

Research time and again shows that environmental issues are important to people.  A worldwide McKinsey survey revealed that 87% of consumers worry about the environmental and social impact of the products they buy.  In 2008, Net Balance Foundation found that “four out of five Australian consumers agree everyone needs to take more responsibility for their personal contribution to global warming”.   Sure, there is also plenty of evidence that shows that people are not taking action proportionate to their concerns, but at least the issues are on the radar for people.


How can we apply this to behaviour change for sustainability? An important precursor to a behaviour change intervention is to recognise where people are at, and what they need.  The fact that most people are somewhat concerned about environment issues means that raising the alarm is no longer the challenge.  The real work needs to be done in showing people what they can do about it, and increasing the degree to which their beliefs are reflected in their actions.





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



Workshop Review – Cultivating Sustainability in New Zealand


A recent trip to NZ saw 5 workshops conducted in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington &

Christchurch.  The response and feedback was great. A big Thank You to all those

who attended and participated with such enthusiasm.  Below are some of the comments

of attendees


“Really feel I am leaving today with some tangible tools to really make a difference”

“A sound, simple and useful introduction to behaviour change techniques”

“The workshop challenged my thinking and provided a good basis & tools for

  effecting behaviour changes personally, in the workplace and community”

“Very empowering, practical skills in a relaxed and inspiring atmosphere”


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


If you would like to discuss running a workshop in your organisation or community, email timc@awake.com.au or phone +61 3 9387 1181



60 Seconds with… Katie Nimmo from Community Energy Action


What first got you focused on sustainability?

It was more a process of osmosis starting when I was very young. Watching David Attenborough's/BBC Series "Our World" as a child (we didn't have telly so it was the only program Mum and Dad would let us watch at the neighbours house). Reading Gerald Durrell and James Herriot's books at a similar age. A love for All Beings - this has always been part of my life - my parents tolerated all manner of different kinds of pets. Riding horses, walking my dog and being outside a lot. Growing up in a house which had 180 degree views spanning over 80 kilometers and watching the landuse change over time. Inheriting my Dad's love of tramping and the mountains. Holidays on a farm. Reading Lovelocks "Gaia Hypothesis" as a teenager.


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

Initiating the beginnings of a 'transition town village' in a middle-low income suburb of about in 860 houses Christchurch, New Zealand. We are re-claiming a old name for this area called "Roimata". We have three initial working groups of local residents - for a newsletter, neighbourhood support, and cleaning up our bit of the local river! My goal is to establish enough trust and connection between residents combined with good processes so that this community work together and can make good choices about its own future. Hopefully this future will include more people growing their own food, every single house audited for energy efficiency, a Time Bank, a diversity of transport choices, everybody feeling safe and secure, plus a distinct sense of why and how Roimata is a special place to live.


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

I am just hopeless at reducing the amount of un-recyclable waste that enters my home. 


Interesting Article of the Month – Voluntary Adoption of Green Electricity



The Voluntary Adoption of Green Electricity By Ontario-Based Companies

By Tom Berkhout & Ian H. Rowlands Organization & Environment, Vol. 20, No. 3, 281-303 (2007)


What is it about? 

This research compared the values and environmental structure of those companies which adopted green energy, with those who didn’t.  In particular, the researchers were interested in the factors which made a company more likely to make a pro-environment decisions when there was no tangible financial incentive on offer.


What did they find?

Thos companies which voluntarily chose green energy were notable by the existence of values which supported environmental performance as an end in itself, rather than as a way of gaining business advantage.  Additionally, these firms were more likely to have a formalised structure for environmental issues to be handled, so that environmental causes could be prioritised without relying on ad hoc championing by one or a few individuals.


What can we take from this?

This study underlines the importance of embedding environmental focus into the culture of the organisation, in order for real, tangible action to be taken.  Once many of the easy wins are gained, where there is a clear financial benefit to the organisation, the real work is going to need to be done by organisations which are prepared to make sustainability a priority because it is the right thing to do – not just for short term financial gain.  This research suggests that those organisations will be the ones which have taken a clear and committed position at a values level, and set up structures which ensure that environmental issues are dealt with on a formal basis.


Awake at the Sustainable Living Festival, Melbourne, February 2009


It’s almost that time of the year again, when more than 100,000 Melburnians and visitors descend on Federation Square for the best in sustainable design, thinking and performance.  All the info is at http://www.slf.org.au/festival/


Tim Cotter will be presenting on Saturday Feb 21 at 5pm, on the “The Psychological Drivers of Sustainability”. We’ll have a look at some of the things which engage people in sustainable behaviours, and invite participants to explore their own values in relation to sustainability. 


It was great fun last year, and always an event to look forward to on the Melbourne calendar.  See you there!


Exercise of the Month – Is There Another Way?


The festive season is a time when many of us with an environmental commitment find it difficult to keep our eco footprint light.  Between gift-buying, gorging on food and drink, and travelling, there are plenty of temptations to go on a bit of a consumption binge.  One way we can help ourselves to make a more sustainable choices is to examine what it is that we get out of actions. 


1.       What is an action, experience or purchase you are having second thoughts about because of it’s environmental impact. (eg. holiday to a beach resort)

2.       What feeling will you get out of that action/experience/purchase? (e.g. Relaxation, Fun)

3.       What value(s) will it serve? (eg. Wellbeing)

4.       Is there another way you can experience the same feeling and live the same value(s) while being kinder to the environment? (eg Daytrips to the beach)


One way in which we can lighten our eco footprint without necessarily lowering our “standard of living”, or “changing our values” is by re-evaluating the way in which we choose to define standard of living, and the way in which we satisfy our values.


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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