Welcome to the July 2010 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 – Making Green Convenient

·         Upcoming Workshops – Cultivating Sustainability in Australia and New Zealand

·         Upcoming Workshop - Behaviour Change Techniques to Encourage Green Purchasing

·         60 seconds with… Claire Vanderplank, Cycling for Cohesion

·         Interesting Article of the Month – Bickering Over Green

·         Exercise of the Month – Re-thinking Convenience


Feature Article – Making Green Convenient


A convenient choice is most commonly defined as one which saves us time and effort.

It could be argued that adopting environmentally friendly behaviours requires forgoing some convenience. Just looking at some of these behaviours, versus their less sustainable alternatives. Cycling versus driving. Composting versus putting everything in the rubbish bin. Turning off appliances at the wall versus leaving them on standby. Each of these greener options quite clearly require more investment of time and effort, however small the difference. In a society where we are increasingly “time-poor” (or are increasingly told so anyway), the task for those promoting sustainability requires overcoming the barrier of perceived inconvenience.

How important is convenience? Reviewing research related to “cognitive effort”, Garbarino and Edell report that “a consistent finding is that humans have limited cognitive resources and allocate them judiciously”. In order to avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of decisions we are required to make every day, and the myriad choices available, we are attracted to things which reduce the amount of mental effort required. This is one reason why we develop habits, as a shortcut to having to make a new decision every time we encounter the same need. Garbarino and Edell also found that “it is clear that people are willing to forgo some benefits to conserve cognitive effort”. This explains, for instance, why we are willing to buy convenience snacks which we know are less healthy for us.

The effort required to make the decision itself also has an effect on the perceived desirability of our choices. The study by Garbarino and Edell found that, when faced with a choice between two products, the effort required to evaluate a product created a negative emotion towards that choice, even though the attributes of the choices were the same. People were also willing to pay more for the product which was easier to evaluate. This has important implications for many aspects of promoting sustainable choices, such as labeling. When we are asking people to buy the most environmentally friendly product, if it is hard work for them to identify its environmental benefits they are not going to view it positively.

Another demonstration of the importance of convenience is the effect of the “default option”. Studies have found that we will often accept the choice which is presented as the standard option, rather than make the effort to consider the alternatives. Among the most interesting of these was a study of a German town where green energy was offered as the default option, resulting in 94% of people continuing to purchase it, in contrast with single-digit uptake in towns where non-renewable energy was the standard offer.

The stiff competition which convenience provides for sustainability promoters raises an interesting question. Are we best to attempt to convince people to reduce the emphasis they place on convenience, or should we direct our efforts to making green options more convenient? The former option would require a re-framing of the value which we place on certain behaviours. Cycling, for instance, would struggle to compete with driving on the convenience stakes for many people (although traffic congestion in many cities is fast tipping this balance). However, the benefits in terms of wellbeing, cost and environmental impact offer an opportunity to put a strong case for cycling – a case so strong that the trade-off in terms of convenience may seem worth it. On the other hand, some people are likely to drive a harder bargain when it comes to giving up convenience. So making cycling more convenient is also effort well spent. Better cycling tracks, facilities and information would all reduce the perceived trade-off of time and effort.

Therefore, the answer to the question of whether to attempt to influence the importance people place on convenience, or simply to match the convenience of less eco-friendly options appears to be “both”. Although the addiction to convenience has arguably caused us to become disengaged from the realities of production, there is strong evidence that humans are pre-disposed to seek options which minimise our time and effort. In other words, a need for convenience is here to stay, so we can either fight it, or meet it.

The quest to make sustainable options more convenient would benefit from an awareness of the key elements of convenience. Interestingly, nearly all discussions of convenience are centred around marketing to consumers. However, it is possible to apply many of the principles to other types of behaviour which are not necessarily related to purchasing. One useful model which outlines the elements of convenience is presented in Understanding Service Convenience. The model describes 5 types of convenience:

·         Decision convenience – how easy it is to make a decision about the product or service.

·         Access convenience – the perceived time and effort required to initiate service delivery

·         Transaction convenience - perceived time and effort to secure the right to use the service

·         Benefit convenience - perceived time and effort expenditures to experience the service's core benefits (such as the travel time required to experience the convenience benefit)

·         Post-benefit convenience - the time and effort to re-contact the seller after the initial purchase (e.g. for returns or repairs)

Understanding and incorporating these elements of convenience may go some way towards making eco-friendly options a more convenient choice, and reducing yet another barrier to the uptake of a more sustainable lifestyle.



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 and New Zealand


Dates for Australian workshops over the next few months are as follows.


Brisbane, August 24


Dates for NZ workshops are as follows.


Christchurch, August 2

Nelson, August 3

Wellington, August 5

Auckland, August 11


More information, including online registration details, is available at www.awake.com.au/cultivating.html


About the Workshop

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.

Cost:    For-profits $250pp

           Not-for-profit/Government $200pp

           Individuals/Community Groups $120pp


Feedback from attendees of recent Cultivating Sustainability workshops included…


“Great framework for encouraging behavioural change within organisations”

“Provided me with tools and insights to challenge me to review how I am approaching my sustainability project”

”This workshop has given me good insight into the motivating factors in people’s behaviour and ways to get lasting change”

“I found the workshop useful to help me learn practical and positive/inspirational ways to change peoples attitudes and behaviours towards sustainability”


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. 


Date:  Wednesday, August 18th, 2010.  8.30am - 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. 



60 Seconds with….. Claire Vanderplank, Cycling for Cohesion


What first got you focused on sustainability?

I suspect it was due to my inherent sense of justice and responsibility combined with long-term thinking. I don’t really know what triggered it, but I do remember standing up at show ‘n’ tell in grade 2 and informing my classmates that dolphins were more intelligent than humans because they don’t destroy their environment! I background is in health, but found myself thinking “what’s the point in making changes in individual people’s lives when were heading down a path that will affect everyone extremely adversely in the not-too-distant future?”

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

Decided that I really can do without a car – even in winter. Active transport can be done. I’m moving a little bit closer to the action in part so I’m not tempted to get a car.

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

Into my shopping basket on the weekend went smoked salmon from Denmark, cheese from Holland and figs from Turkey – the taste and cost combo won me over. But I know I should buy local.


Interesting Article of the Month –  Bickering Over Green



Therapists Report Increase in Green Disputes

By Leslie Kaufman

New York Times, January 2010


What is it about? 

This article discusses the increasing reports of couples falling out over environmentally-related behaviours.


What did they find?

As awareness of environmental concerns has grown, therapists say they are seeing a rise in bickering between couples and family members over the extent to which they should change their lives to save the planet.


What can we take from this?

Growing awareness of environmental issues often results in big changes involving values, lifestyle choices and priorities. We can’t expect people to move in the same direction at the same speed, so it is no surprise that people are hitting a few bumps in the road. Perhaps environmental education needs to include support for people to handle the effects that flow from changes in lifestyle. Although we probably also have to accept that these things will happen – that’s just life.


Exercise of the Month – Re-thinking Convenience


Following on from the feature article above, this month’s exercise looks at what it would take to adopt behaviours which we currently view as less convenient.

1.      Identify some behaviours you would consider “unsustainable”, which you continue to undertake because they are more convenient than the more sustainable alternative.

2.      What would you consider to be the trade-off in terms of time and effort if you were to switch to the more sustainable option?

3.      Is there some other benefit you would gain from the more sustainable behaviour which would make the trade-off more acceptable?

4.      What could you do to increase the convenience of the currently less convenient behaviour?

By examining the perceived convenience gap between our current and desired behaviours, it may be possible to see a way forward which is acceptable and beneficial to us.


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



Subscribing to Wake-Up Call


If you know someone who is interested in behaviour change for sustainability, please forward Wake-Up Call to them so they can subscribe.


To subscribe to Wake-Up call, email subscribe@awake.com.au


If you do not wish to receive this newsletter in future, please email unsubscribe@awake.com.au with “unsubscribe” in the subject field.



© Awake 2010