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June 2008
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Welcome to the June 2008 Wake-Up Call, Awakeís monthly newsletter for research and news about behaviour change for sustainability.

In this edition of Wake-up Call…

Workshop Reminder - Cultivating Sustainability
Feature Article - What's the norm?
60 seconds with… Colette from UNAA
Interesting Article of the Month - Context change and travel mode choice
Exercise of the Month - Breaking the Habit


Workshop Reminder - Cultivating Sustainability

There are still a few places available for the next Cultivating Sustainability workshop, which will be held on Friday, June 20th in Melbourne.

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.

When:  Friday,  June 20th, 9.00am - 4pm

Where: 60L Building, 60 Leicester St, Carlton, Melbourne

Cost: For-profits $250
        Not-for-profit/Government $200
        Individuals/Community Groups $120

For more info see
For registration and enquiries, email timc@awake.com.au or phone 0404 212 903

60 Seconds with… Colette from United Nations Association of Australia

What first got you focused on sustainability?
The Al Gore movie.  I left it feeling like I really donít want to let this feeling of inspiration go, so I went back to Uni to study in the area and get involved.

What is the sustainable choice you have recently made of which you are most proud?
I ride my bike everywhere and donít have a car.

What is a less sustainable choice that you are not so proud of?
Not buying enough local stuff.  For instance, I will buy a can of tomatoes and get home, look at the label and see they are imported from Italy. "Why did I buy that?"


Research Finding of the Month - Context change and travel mode choice

Verplanken, B., Walker, I., Davis, A., & Jurasek, M. (2008). Context change and travel mode choice: Combing the habit discontinuity and self-activation hypotheses. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 9, 15-26.

What is it about? 
This research tests the hypothesis that environmentally concerned people who had recently moved house would be more likely to reduce their car use.

What did they find?
The researchers did indeed find that those who were concerned for the environment were more likely to reduce their car use upon moving residence.  The reasoning proposed for this finding is that a change in context (such as moving house) forces people to discontinue their habits and re-choose their mode of transport.  This new decision is more likely to require a conscious decision, one which takes into consideration our values and preferences, hence the readjustment to make a more values-based choice, rather than automatic, habitual one.

What can we take from this?
As the authors conclude, this research finding suggests great promise for an approach which combines environmental interventions with some form of habit disruption.  By taking advantage of that window where people need to make a new decision, we may find that they are more receptive to green messages which are framed in a way which speak to their deeper concerns and values.  Perhaps "peak oil  canít come soon enough!


Exercise of the Month - Breaking Habits

Following on from the research finding above, when was the last time you deliberately reviewed your habits?

1. Make a list of the following
  • The way you travel to work
  • Where you buy your groceries
  • The source of the main food items that you consume
  • The way you heat & cool your house
  • Where you invest your money, superannuation etc

2. For each of the items above, start afresh!  That is, beginning with a review of the things that are really important to you in your life (i.e. your values), make a new choice about each of the items above.

You may find, after going through this exercise, that the choices you make are exactly the same.  Thatís OK, but at least you have taken the time to review them and know they have been taken off autopilot and are deliberately chosen.  Are there any other habitual actions which you have not inspected deliberately for a while?

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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©Awake 2008
Feature Article - What's the norm?

Much effort is made to convince us that "green is the new black".  This is not just an observation by social commentators, but also a deliberate strategy to employ a psychological concept known as social norming.  Put simply, social norming means that if we think others are doing something, we are more likely to do it ourselves.  It is an idea which is used in, and responsible for, a plethora of social trends.  Fashion is a prime example.  Illegal music downloading is another - how can it be "piracy  if everyone is doing it?  So it makes sense to harness the power of social norming in order to influence people to choose eco-friendly behaviours. 

But there are some important questions to answer before going down this path.  Does relying on the social norm work? Under what circumstances?  How do we employ it for environmental purposes?

The evidence for Social Norms

Several notable studies have clearly demonstrated that invoking a social norm is effective in increasing the uptake of pro-environment behaviours.   A series of experiments by Cialdini, Reno and Kallgren (1990) showed that students were much more likely to litter in an area which was already heavily littered, than in one which was spotless.  Stewart Barr (1990), in reviewing the major drivers of environmental behaviour, concluded with regard to recycling that "the major psychological predictor of intention is the acceptance of the norm to recycle". 

So there is clearly a tendency for us to base our actions, at least partly, on what we believe others to be doing.  Why is this?  One explanation may be that most people believe themselves to be good and "normal  citizens.  When "normal  changes, we are motivated to adapt to the new norm, to avoid sticking out from the crowd (in a bad way) and becoming, literally, deviants.   We also use social norms to guide us as to the ease and convenience of acting in a certain way.  If we see other people doing it, we conclude that it canít be that hard, and may try it ourselves.

Taken to its logical conclusion, all we need to do to stimulate pro-environment behaviours is to convince everyone that that everyone else is doing it.  Right?  Not so fast. 

Intermediary Factors

Another body of research has revealed that we wonít necessarily change our behaviour just because we perceive that others are doing it, but that in fact there are some intermediary factors which need to be in place.  

One theory that has some traction relates to personal norms.  This theory proposes that the social norm will only influence our behaviour if it also triggers a personal moral standard which we hold. Only if we have some connection to the behaviour being observed, will we be motivated to conform.  For instance, if we consider ourselves to be community minded, then we are more likely to be influenced by observing that the neighbours are making an effort to recycle.  If we are not too bothered by our contribution to the community, then we wonít be so motivated by what others are doing to contribute.  The interplay between social and personal norms has been analysed by Bamberg and Moser (2007) who did indeed find that social norms themselves were an "indirect determinant of intention", and that they played a part in both increasing our feels of guilt and informing us about the ease and benefit of acting. 

Practical Application

Based on a review of the relevant research, it would appear that there is some merit in
  •   raising peoples awareness of what others are doing, and
  •   creating a situation where they can relate this to their own morals and values

This underlines the importance of connecting people to what is important to them as part of any intervention or communication to promote sustainability.  Once people have made the psychological and emotional link to a sustainable future (e.g "I do care about the world my kids are growing up in") they are more likely to feel motivated to act when they receive information which suggests they are dragging the chain in doing something about it.

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