Welcome to the January 2011 Wake-Up Call, Awake’s monthly newsletter for research and news about behaviour change for sustainability.


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In this edition of Wake-up Call…


·         Feature Article – Does One Good Turn Lead To Another?

·         60 Seconds With… Chris Harries, Climate Connect Project, Waterworks Community

·         Future Workshops

·         New Website, More Changes To Come

·         Interesting Article Of The Month - Converging Conventions of Comfort, Cleanliness and Convenience

·         Exercise Of The Month – Goal-setting Revisited


Feature Article – – Does One Good Turn Lead To Another?


 A common perception among those who encourage behaviour change is that getting people to make one small change in a positive direction will most likely lead them to make similar, more significant changes further down the track. For instance, if we get people to change to more energy-efficient light bulbs, they will go on to start turning off appliances at the wall when not in use. However, a look at the research evidence suggests it’s not so simple.

The phenomenon described above is known as “spillover” – based on the idea that one positive behaviour will spill over to other behaviours. It is largely based on the idea that, when people do something small, they will form a belief about themselves that they are “that kind of person”. For instance, a person who changes to a low-energy light bulb will see themselves as an energy-saver, or environmentalist. Later, when presented with a choice about whether to adopt an energy saving behaviour, theoretically they are motivated to act consistently with that identity, and adopt the behaviour. This is called cognitive consistency theory, or avoidance of cognitive dissonance, which is discussed in Wake-Up Call February 2008. Reliance on spillover is behind a lot of efforts to promote simple, household-level behaviours, such as the light-bulb example above, changing the showerhead to reduce water use, and using re-usable shopping bags.

Evidence for spillover has been found by a number if studies. For instance, Berger (1997) found that those who recycle regularly are more likely to use their own shopping bag and use a water-saving showerhead. Similarly, a 1982 study found that householders who installed a low-flow showerhead were more likely to take other conservation measures, such as lowering their thermostat.

Despite these positive findings, and the fact that the theory makes sense, research has overall provided mixed support for the spillover effect. This is thought to be partly because of the somewhat convoluted way in which people make decisions about their actions. The WWF report “Simple and Painless” provides a good analysis of this.

For a start, it appears that the reason we undertake a behaviour has a big impact on the extent to which it will influence future, similar behaviours. If we change our light bulbs to save money on energy, our motive is entirely different to someone who changes their light bulb to reduce carbon emissions. Therefore, this behaviour is more likely to predict future money-saving efforts, rather than emission reduction efforts.

Another barrier to spillover may be a tendency to feel like one has done enough by undertaking the first behaviour. If people feel that, by recycling regularly, they are doing their bit for the environment, then they may not feel any need to reduce the amount of products they consume. So, rather than recycling behaviour being a motivator for further pro-environmental behaviour, it may in fact contribute to an overall increase in consumption for some individuals.

Consideration also needs to be given to the similarity between the behaviours in question. If people perceive a strong relationship between behaviours, it appears that the spillover effect is more prevalent. For instance, reducing water use in one situation (e.g. turning off the tap while brushing teeth) may predict one’s likelihood of reducing water in another (e.g. taking short showers). It may, however, have limited relationship to the probability that a person will recycle, or take public transport.  A 2003 study by Thogerson and Olander explored this question and found some relationship between pro-environmental behaviours, but concluded that “our analyses also show that many environment-friendly behaviours are not at all closely related in people’s minds”.

Lastly, the degree to which a behaviour is strongly habitual appears to have an impact on it’s susceptibility to spillover. The Thogerson and Olander study in particular stresses that we are less likely to reflect on habitual behaviours, and therefore less likely to consider their consistency with our identities and personal norms. It makes sense that any strategy which relies on spillover should also consider interventions to disrupt and replace habits, which are discussed in Wake-Up Call July 2008.

In summary, it makes logical sense that adopting one pro-environmental behaviour should lead a person to adopt others, and there is some evidence that is indeed the case. However, there are a number of conditions which should be considered before investing effort and resources in a strategy which relies on spillover to encourage environmentally positive habits. As with most approaches to behaviour change for sustainability, there is no single foolproof strategy, and spillover is no exception.



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


60 Seconds with….. Chris Harries, Climate Connect Project, Waterworks Community


What first got you focused on sustainability?

In the 1970s I as aghast at the impending flooding of Lake Pedder, one of Australia's premier natural icons – especially knowing that it was being done to meet growing energy demand. I was so affected that I dropped my metallurgical career and took up environmental campaigning, specialising in energy demand management.

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

In the past year I have initiated a community project that examined the many barriers that well-intentioned householders face when trying to reduce their energy footprint, with a view to finding ways to work through the barriers. We got very good feedback from those exercises.  

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

Although I'm aware that there is good information out there are ways to minimise the climate impact of pets, I haven't gone to the trouble of finding out the best way to feed our pet dog in the most sustainable way. (The impact of pets is larger than most people realise.)


Future Workshops


The workshop schedule for 2011 is currently being developed and will be advised on the website and future editions of Wake-Up Call as soon as it is confirmed.

Along with the popular Cultivating Sustainability workshop, a more advanced behaviour change workshop is under development and will be piloted in the near future.

Enquiries, requests and suggestions are welcomed by email to timc@awake.com.au


New Website, More Changes To Come


Awake has a new website!  Be sure to check out www.awake.com.au . There is still a fair bit of content to add, so please bear with me.

The aim is to provide a more visually appealing and easy-to-navigate site, while still keeping the site clean and clutter-free.

Wake-Up Call is also in line for a revamp. After more than 35 issues. I’m currently looking at new ways to provide valuable news, views and insights on the psychology of sustainability to the more than 1000 subscribers to Wake-Up Call. Suggestions are welcomed by email to timc@awake.com.au


Interesting Article of the Month –  Converging Conventions of Comfort, Cleanliness and Convenience


Converging Conventions of Comfort, Cleanliness and Convenience

By Elizabeth Shove

Available for download here

What is it about? 

This article reviews and discusses some of the societal and cultural trends which have driven our current consuming lifestyle. In particular, the concepts of comfort, cleanliness and convenience are discussed, along with the question of “how do new conventions become normal, and with what consequence for sustainability?”.

What did they find?

A number of interesting cultural trends are discussed, such as the expectation of cleanliness and it’s impact on laundry activity, which makes interesting reading when compared to the norms of those in previous generations. The trends presented depict a society which has developed habits and cultural expectations which have a far greater resource impact than those of a few generations ago.

What can we take from this?

Shove likens the change in trends to a ratchet, a mechanism which turns one way, but cannot go back, “representing the impossibility of backward movement and the locking in of technologies and practices as they move along a path”. Recognising the influence of cultural convention on the way in which we consume, these insights underline the need to challenge and shift expectations and norms at a cultural level as part of the shift to a more sustainable society. Such work is at least as important as efforts to change individual behaviours.


Exercise of the Month – Goal-setting Revisited


Now is the perfect time to set some goals for the year ahead. Whether it be new years resolutions, business targets or goals for reducing our carbon emissions, the research shows that there are a number of key elements which make a goal more likely to be achieved. These elements are discussed in the June 2010 Wake-Up Call, and the exercise below is a timely reprint of the one from that month.

1.      Identify some sustainable behaviours for which you would like to either set or review some goals. For example, you may wish to set a target for household energy or water use.

2.      For each behaviour, ensure you write down specifically what you wish to achieve. Consider the following

a.      Is the goal challenging enough? Could you make it a bit more of a stretch?

b.      Will you be able to measure attainment of the goal?

c.      Is there a process by which feedback can be provided along the way?

d.      Have you ensured that any necessary support, information and resources will be in place to assist with achieving the goal?

If your goals tick all of these boxes, then there is a strong chance they will be achieved. Good luck!


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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