Welcome to the December 2009 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 – Who’s Green?

·         Workshop Reminder– Cultivating Sustainability in Hepburn Region

·         Upcoming Workshop - Behaviour Change Techniques to Encourage Green Purchasing

·         Interesting Article of the Month – Put A Lid On It

·         60 seconds with…  Kate from Greenpeace

·         Exercise of the Month – Make The Call This Christmas


Feature Article – Who’s Green?


Some people claim that green issues are the concern primarily of rich, educated, left-leaning liberals – the only ones who can afford the luxury of such considerations.  But do these claims stand up to scrutiny?  This months article takes a look at the research into some of the demographic characteristics of those who demonstrate concern about the environment.


The results for age have been mixed over the years, but recent studies seem to reveal that young people are less likely then their elders to engage in pro-environmental behaviours.  This trend has been observed in many countries, including China, Australia and the United Kingdom.   One explanation may be that young people are more focused on getting ahead and establishing themselves financially, and do not have the “luxury” of worrying about less immediate concerns. 


One question likely to result in dinner-table discussions is that of whether men or women more likely to do their bit for the environment?  The research is mixed, but the most common finding is that women express greater care and concern for environmental issues than men. In terms of behaviour, they are more likely to undertake everyday activities which benefit the environment, such as recycling and making green purchasing decisions.  This has usually been put down to the effects of socialisation and the established gender role of women as more caring and nurturing.  Men do, however, shine when it comes to activism and involvement in environmental issues outside the home.  They are also more likely to read more about environmental issues.


An interesting piece of research by Paul Stern and colleagues attempted to explain this gender difference and identified a pattern whereby women had stronger beliefs that environmental issues were a threat to welfare, security and health, which explained their propensity to act in an environmentally friendly way.  Where those beliefs did not exist, the gender difference was absent.  The authors conclude that “when women are more active on environmental issues, it is because of an increased likelihood to make connections between environmental conditions and their values, rather than because they have different values structures than men”.  This finding suggests that making it easier for people to make the link between green issues and their own values is essential for sustainability promoters.


There is also evidence to suggest that parents are more involved in environmental issues than those without children. A major study in New South Wales, Australia, found that those with children were not only more concerned about the environment, but were also more likely to undertake green behaviours.  They were, however, less likely to nominate action on the environment as a priority for the state government.  


In terms of income level, there does not appear to be a strong relationship between income and concern for environmental issues.  However, some interesting findings have emerged in studies comparing the attitudes toward sustainability between countries with differing levels of wealth.  Diekmann and Franzen found that people in poor countries have similar levels of concern toward the environment as those in wealthy countries.  However, people in the wealthy countries were more likely to rank environmental protection as a high priority for action.  This suggests that, while concerns are shared, wealthy nations are in a better position to do something about it, and people are more willing to see resources allocated to dealing with the issues. 


The findings regarding wealth, and to some extent age, suggest that Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” has some relevance to the study of environmental attitudes and action.  Maslow’s theory suggests that people need to meet their lower order needs such as survival and security before they can focus on high order needs such as achievement and morality.  It appears that environmental issues have been positioned as a higher order need, something which can be focused on once the necessities of life are taken care of.  For people in poor nations, the priority may be getting food on the table.  For younger people it may be fitting into the crowd, establishing an identity, or starting a career.   One of the challenges for sustainability advocates is to “reposition” environmental issues as lower order needs on the Maslow hierarchy.   While climate change is being touted as the “moral challenge of our time”, it may struggle to get traction.  According to the theory, morality occurs in the self-actualisation stage, something which people going about their everyday business are unlikely to pay much attention to.  But if sustainability is accepted as necessary for our survival, wellbeing and security, then it may start to capture the focus of a larger percentage of society and get the action it deserves and demands.




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 Reminder – Cultivating Sustainability in Hepburn Region


Awake will conduct a Cultivating Sustainability workshop on Tuesday, February 9th in the Hepburn Region, Victoria (venue TBC)



This is a public workshop with all welcome to attend.  


Cost:        For-profits $250pp

               Not-for-profit/Government $200pp

               Individuals/Community Groups $120pp


More information, including online registration details, can be found at



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.


Feedback from attendees of the most recent Cultivating Sustainability workshop (Melbourne Nov 24th)  included


“The information was really clearly set out, well paced and interesting. It was engaging and positive”

“This workshop was a well structured program for demonstrating how to influence positive sustainability outcomes”

”I like the practical content of the workshop and the do-able solutions for behaviour change”

“A valuable insight into the psychology of behaviour change”


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



Upcoming Workshop - Behaviour Change Techniques to Encourage Green Purchasing


Awake will be partnering with ECO-Buy to present a half-day workshop on behaviour change techniques to encourage green purchasing.

By attending this workshop you will gain valuable insights and skills for

   Understanding the psychological drivers of green behaviour

   Recognising what people need in order to engage in behaviour change

   Identifying the biggest barriers to making green factors a priority

   Changing old habits and creating new ones

   How to influence people and gain their buy-in

   How to appeal to values and use them to engage people in change

This workshop will benefit anybody who is involved with promoting green purchasing through their organisation, and trying to embed a culture of sustainable purchasing. 


DateWednesday, March 10th, 20108.30am - 12.30pm
Location:  60L
Green Building, 60 Leicester St, Carlton, Melbourne
Registrations: Please go to the ECO-Buy website to register for the workshop or call ECO-Buy on 9349 0400 for further details. 


Interesting Article of the Month   Put A Lid On It



It Matters a Hole Lot: Perceptual Affordances of Waste Containers Influence Recycling Compliance

By Sean Duffy & Michelle Verges

Environment and Behavior, Vol. 41, No. 5, 741-749 (2009)


What is it about? 

This study looked at the effects of changing the lids on the bins for general rubbish and recycling bins at a university.  The rates of recycling, as well as incorrect placing of rubbish in recycling bins, were studied when specially shaped lids were used, in comparison to the previous situation where only a written label was present on the bins.


What did they find?

The change resulted in a 34% increase in recycling rates, as well as a whopping 95% decrease in non-recyclables being placed in the recycling bin.


What can we take from this?

Once again, this study shows the power of simple changes in the environment which make it easier for people to do the right thing. 

The authors propose several explanations for this significant change.  Firstly, that it may be because it forces people to be more deliberate about an act which is usually done pretty unconsciously.  Secondly, they suggest that people have become accustomed to specialised recycling bin lids in public places, so when the bin does not have one, they assume it is for general rubbish.  Finally, they suggest that there may be a social norm effect, whereby the bin design sends a clearer signal about the right thing to do, and any non-compliance would be more obvious.

Whatever the reason for the effect, the lesson appears to repeated at all levels of society -  look at how the environment or system you have set up supports or discourages people from doing the right thing.  


60 Seconds with….. Kate from Greenpeace


What first got you focused on sustainability?


A concern for what I am putting into my body.  You can focus on nutrition, but if you’re putting genetically modified food in, what’s the point?


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


No genetically modified food.  It’s actually really difficult, especially when you go to a café or friends house.


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


Recycling is not well set up in my apartment block, so I don’t do as much as I could. 



Exercise of the Month – Make The Call This Christmas


People with a commitment to green issues often experience angst at this time of year when deciding whether or not to send out Christmas cards to friends and business associates. On the one hand, we want to show people we care, but on the other hand we are aware of the huge eco footprint which is created by the production and distribution of cards.  While an email card is one great eco-friendly alternative, some people find them a bit impersonal.


One of the best ideas I’ve come across is also among the most simple.  Make a phone call.  It’s personal, it’s real and it shows people you are wanting to make a connection and not just tick off a list.  So in the spirit of the season….


1.      Decide who you would usually send cards to at Christmas (maybe start with a simple list of 5 people).

2.      Make a deliberate time to call them and pass on your seasons greetings.

3.      Let them know why you are doing it (remember, role modeling is among the best ways to create behaviour change for sustainability)

4.      Have a safe, joyful and sustainable festive season!



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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