Wake-Up Call
January 2008
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Welcome to Wake-up Call, Awake’s monthly newsletter for research, news and views about behaviour change for sustainability.

In this edition of Wake-up Call…

Feature Article - Control Issues
60 seconds with… Uwe Wullfen
Research Finding of the Month - Cars are stressful, public transport is boring
Exercise of the Month - We always have a choice
Awake at the Sustainable Living Festival 2008
Upcoming Workshop - Cultivating Sustainability


Feature Article - Control Issues
A key determinant of the degree to which people will adopt sustainable behaviours is the level of control they feel.  Where people feel they have some control over their behaviours, and that their actions can make a difference, then they are more likely to act in an environmentally friendly manner.  

Note, there are 2 elements within this premise…

"I can change my behaviour".  There is unequivocal evidence within the field of psychology that people vary in the degree to which they believe they have control over their own outcomes.  One popular model to describe this variance is termed "Locus of Control".  People with a strong internal locus of control (ILOC) feel a greater sense of self-determinism.  ILOC’s attribute most of their outcomes to their own personal actions.  On the other hand, those with a highly external locus of control (ELOC) attribute a greater number of their outcomes to external factors, such as other people, their upbringing, and often spiritual forces beyond their control such as luck and fate.  A major analysis of research into determinants of sustainable behaviour by Hines, Hungerford and Tomera (1986) revealed LOC as one of the major predictors.

"My actions make a difference". It can be tempting to dismiss our own efforts as trivial, given the enormity of the envoronmental challenges facing us.  This is played out at an individual level, where we question the relevance of bucketing grey water for the garden, in the knowledge that in the time it takes us to carry that bucket, the factory down the road has used another thousand litres of water in a production process.  And it is also played out on the international stage - how often have we heard that our country should not be too hasty to take the lead on climate change, given that China is building a new coal-fired power plant every week or so?  Again, research has found a link between one’s sense of control over environmental outcomes, and one’s behaviour toward sustainability.  Allen and Ferrand (1999) discovered that one’s sense of personal control over environmental outcomes was a strong predictor of pro-environmental behaviours. 

To summarise the types of control and their impact on sustainable behaviour, the following model may help.

In the model above, it is obvious that building the 2 types of perceived control require different approaches.

Building perceived control over my actions.  The simplest way to increase someone’s belief that they can change their behaviour is to give them the tools to do so.  For instance, showing people that they can make a significant dent in their water useage simply by changing their showerhead is very powerful.  Engaging people in behaviours which require more perceived sacrifice is likely to require a bit more soul-searching and an examination of the beliefs, habits and priorities behind their actions. Convincing someone that they do not "need" a 4WD juggernaut to accommodate their family of four could require a re-think of the idea of "need".  A lot of clarity can be gained through simply stepping people through a deliberate consideration of their options for acting.  If I choose behaviour A, what will be the outcome?  If I choose behaviour B, what will be the outcome?  When people recognise they always have options, they regain control over their ability to choose.

Building the perception that my actions make a difference. It is all too easy to accept that our actions are futile in comparison to the enormity of the worlds problems, it's population and it’s insatiable appetite for consumption.  But eventually it needs to be accepted that every institution, every market, and every society is made up of people, and we are as much a stakeholder as anyone else.    Changing our behaviour not only reduces our personal footprint, but also sets an example for those around us, and takes society a step closer to a "tipping point" where sustainable behaviour becomes the norm.    This is the message that needs to be emphasised in order to encourage people to take on the challenge of making a difference.  The tactics here involve challenging assumptions and perceptions about the role of people in things that seem bigger than people.

As long as people feel that they do not have the power to change their own behaviour and influence the way society operates, we will keep moving in the same unsustainable direction.   One of the most important jobs for sustainability advocates is to support people to recognise their own power and to use it.


60 Seconds with… Uwe Wullfen
Organic Elements, Queen Victoria Market & Prahran Market, Melbourne
What first got you focused on sustainability?
Growing up in Europe I developed a strong awareness of the importance of sustainability and keeping and caring for the environment.  Upon moving to Australia I immediately started working in this industry.
What is the sustainable choice you have recently made of which you are most proud?
I only eat organic food - in fact I would go without certain foods rather than eat them if they are not organic. Also, I very rarely use the car, only as a last resort.
What is the sustainable choice that you are struggling to make?
Giving up smoking. I hate it. It is a big battle to give up.


Research Finding of the Month - Cars are stressful, public transport is boring.
Gatersleben, B. & Uzzell, D. (2007) Affective Appraisals of the Daily Commute, Environment and Behavior, 39 (3) 416-431.
What is it about? 
This British study looked at the affective (emotional) responses most commonly associated with various modes of transport.
What did they find?
Those who drive to work are the most stressed, while public transport is associated with boredom and frustration due to delays and unpredictability.  Cycling is pleasant and stimulating, while walking is pleasant and relaxing.  One interesting finding is that, although traditionally cars are valued for the convenience and control they provide, drivers noted a lack of control, due to traffic jams, as a great source of stress.
What can we take from this?
Aside from the practical benefits of alternatives to cars, there is a strong case for promoting the emotional gains to be made, especially from walking and biking.  This is especially important when we consider the wellbeing impacts of stress and frustration.  The study also hints at the benefits of making public transport more stimulating and attractive as an alternative to the car. 


Exercise of the Month - We always have a choice
This month's exercise is designed to reinforce the idea that we choose our actions, and therefore our outcomes.
  1. Write down one sustainable behaviour dilemma which you are struggling with. (eg. what mode of transport to use to get to work)
  2. Now make a list of the possible options available to you.
  3. For each of the options, note what the outcome(s) of taking that option would be.
  4. Now decide which outcome feels right according to your sense of values and principles, and make a deliberate decision to do it.
This simple process of making a deliberate decision is designed to remind people that they always do make a choice.  Sometimes just the recognition that we are responsible for our outcomes is empowering and gives us a greater sense of control.

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!


Awake at the Sustainable Living Festival 2008
Tim Cotter will be presenting at the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne.  This fantastic festival showcasing all things sustainable takes place on Feb 15-17 at Federation Square. 
Tim will be presenting on The Psychology of Sustainability, and will cover some of the theories and research in this area, as well as running a brief exercise exploring our personal values and how they relate to sustainability.
Come and join us on Sunday Feb 17, 4pm at the "Feel Hub"


Upcoming Workshop - Cultivating Sustainability
Awake has recently developed Cultivating Sustainability, a 1-day workshop which provides sustainability advocates with insights, models and tools to trigger the psychological drivers of sustainable behaviour.
The pilot for this workshop will be held in Melbourne on Friday February 22.   

For more info, download the flyer at www.cultivatingpilot.awake.com.au
To register your interest in attending, email timc@awake.com.au or phone 0404 212 903


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©Awake 2008