Welcome to the January 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 – The Importance of Being a Role Model

·          Upcoming Workshops – Cultivating Sustainability in Australia, March 2009

·          60 seconds with… Barnaby Smith from Environment Waikato

·          Interesting Article of the Month – When We Smell a Rat

·          Upcoming Presentation – Awake at the Sustainable Living Festival 2009

·          Exercise of the Month – Being an Active Role Model


Feature Article – The Importance of Being a Role Model


A friend (we shall refer to her as “N”), who had previously been reluctant to consider cycling the flat 4km to her workplace, astounded me by revealing that she had purchased a scooter (the non-motorised kind) for the daily commute.  What prompted this change of heart?  “As I started my drive to work one day, I noticed a neighbour setting off on her scooter.  Nearing my office after about 20min of sitting in peak hour traffic, my neighbour zipped past me on her scooter.  I thought, ‘if she can do it, so can I”.  This story is a simple, yet powerful, illustration of the influence of role models on our own behaviour. 


Our willingness to adopt a new way of doing things can be stimulated by a lot of factors.  One of them is through seeing that our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours tried it and it worked for them. 


To what extent are people influenced by others to perform environmentally friendly behaviours?  Some investigations have been undertaken, although the research in this area is a bit limited. 


A study in 1998 compared the formative influences of a 9-nation sample of people engaged in environmental action.  Although direct contact with nature throughout ones life was considered the most important precursor to environmental commitment, the influence of other people was 2nd highest, mentioned by 40% of those interviewed.  22% of Australian interviews cited the influence of “friends” as an important factor in shaping their environmental views. In reviewing the literature in this field, the authors comment that “as early as the 1940s and 1950s, researchers had demonstrated that mass media directly influence a small part of their audience at best, but that face-to-face contacts with other people influence most people”.


In terms of the direct influence of others on behaviour change, a notable study was undertaken in the Netherlands, where researchers looked at the diffusion of information about a community energy conservation program, and people’s willingness to adopt the measures it recommended.  The study found that peoples awareness of the program was directly related to the quantity of contacts they had within their community, while their decision to adopt the measures was related to the strength of their ties in the community.  In other words, if people interacted regularly with their neighbours, they were more likely to hear about the program. Furthermore, if they felt that the people they interacted with were trustworthy and had their interests at heart, they were more likely to adopt the measures recommended in the program. 


Finally, a study of energy conservation measures by Darley and Beniger presented a strong case that “information which determines peoples perceptions of innovations is more likely to be transmitted via social networks rather than mass media or other channels of communication”.  The authors discuss the adoption of these measures in terms of a theory of innovation, which proposes that we consider 5 key factors before adopting an innovation


a)      The relative advantage of the new innovation over our current system

b)      The compatibility with our values

c)       The complexity of the innovation

d)      The trialability (can we try before we buy?)

e)      The observability of the benefits (can we see them?)


Effective role modelling can be seen to perform a number of these functions.  Let’s take the earlier anecdote, re my friend with the scooter.   The relative advantage was evident, as “N” could see that her neighbour got to work at least as fast, and probably with less cost and stress (this covers “observability” as well).  Value compatibility is less obvious to the observer, but “N” seemed pretty happy with her decision.   Riding a scooter does not seem too complex (in fact, “N” commented that the neighbour did not look especially athletic!).  Trialability was not required in this case, although could be handled by borrowing a scooter, or test-driving one at the shop. 


Therefore, not only does role modelling give the impression of a social norm of environmental responsibility, at a more specific level it can provide the conditions for others to try a new behaviour that they have previously not considered, or deemed too hard, expensive or ineffective.


If your aim is to provide leadership in the area of environmental stewardship, then role modelling is an effective, easy way to start.  You don’t need to lecture people, have difficult conversations, or tell people they are wrong.  There are, however, a few ways you can help the process along, and make your own behaviours more contagious


·          Make it visible

·          Tell people about it

·          Demonstrate it to them

·          Provide people with resources and information for doing it

·          Help them, or join them, in getting started


The great thing is, role modelling is exponential.  If your acquaintances go on to become role models themselves, then we stand a good chance of reaching the tipping point in sustainable behaviours which our society and planet are in desperate need of.




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



Upcoming Workshops – Cultivating Sustainability in Australia, March 2009


Planning is underway for Cultivating Sustainability workshops in the main centres of Australia throughout March.  Dates are yet to be confirmed, but will be advised to all Wake-Up Call subscribers asap.  Any requests for dates and locations are welcome and greatly appreciated to assist in planning. 


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.


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.


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… Barnaby Smith from Environment Waikato


What first got you focused on sustainability?


I first got interested in 'sustainability' as a concept when I was working as an environmental

scientist in the contaminated sites industry. I saw that how things were being done were far

from sustainable as the focus was on a 'dig and dump' style of site remediation. Soils at

contaminated sites were (and are) being dug up and sent to landfill rather than employing more

innovative techniques such as bio-remediation (using microbes, plants and fungi) to restore soil and groundwater systems to a healthy state. This system is in place so that corporate polluters can remove the main risks to human health at sites they have contaminated and sell them quickly without legal reprisal.


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


Purchasing all my food through a co-op which sells only organic and fair trade produce. I also grow some of my own veggies.


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


Commuting from Raglan to Hamilton (about 40kms each way) for my work. Although I bus some days and sometimes work at home, I do the trip in my car at least once a week.


Interesting Article of the Month –  When We Smell a Rat



How Organizational Motives and Communications Affect Public Trust in Organizations: The Case of Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (2008)  By Bart Terwel, Fieke Harinck, Naomi Ellemers & Dancker Daamen.  Journal of Environmental Psychology, Accepted Manuscript


What is it about? 

This study examined the importance of the congruence between an organisations message with regard to doing public good, and peoples perception of their motive - and the extent to which this congruence affects trust in the organisation.  In particular, the organisations studied were involved in development Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology.


What did they find?

When an organisation that is perceived to be acting in self-interest tries to tell us that they are involved in an environmental program for the public good, we are less likely to trust them.  The authors state that “organisations involved in CCS that are believed to act upon organisation-serving motives cannot build trust by simply communicating that their position is based on more positively valued public-serving motives”.  In fact, it is the level of congruency with inferred organisational motives, rather than the specific content of communications, that determines whether or not organisational communications instigate public trust in organisations.   Furthermore, the researchers found that trust was preserved when the organisation admitted self-interest in combination with public interest.


What can we take from this?

With the number of organisations clamouring to get on board the green bandwagon, and the widely publicised phenomenon of “greenwash”, companies would do well to carefully consider the impact of parading their green credentials, as this research shows it can backfire if the public smells a rat.  Like it or not, people expect that organisations exist to make a profit, and any claims to the contrary are likely to be treated with suspicion.  As this study suggests,  there may be rewards for companies who are straight with us and admit that, although a program may be in the public interest, there is also something in it for them too.


Awake at the Sustainable Living Festival, Melbourne, February 20-22, 2009



Don’t forget to join us at the excellent Sustainable Living Festival in  Melbourne.

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 – Being an Active Role Model


Already doing the right thing by the environment?  Here’s your opportunity to deliberately influence others through the example you set, rather than just hoping it will rub off on them.


1.       Identify an environmentally friendly behaviour that you currently undertake, one that you know is effective and relatively simple. (eg. composting)

2.       Identify 3 people (friends, colleagues, family members) who you think could easily join you in undertaking this behaviour.

3.       Make a list of the following

a)      The benefits of this behaviour

b)      What resources people need

c)       How and where you get the resources

d)      What other assistance people might need in trying this behaviour

4.       Now create an opportunity to influence those people on your list. Remember to show them the benefits (to you and the planet), and consider demonstrating and/or assisting them to get started.

Remember. directly observing and feeling the benefits of a new behaviour is a much more powerful trigger for change rather than merely reading about it or hearing about it over dinner. 


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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