Welcome to the March 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 – Identity

·          Upcoming Workshops – Cultivating Sustainability in Australia

·          60 seconds with… Mandy, a fundraiser for Amnesty International

·          Interesting Article of the Month – Sweatshop Labor is Wrong: Unless the Jeans are Cute

·          Exercise of the Month – Revealing Identities


Feature Article – Identity


Many of our behavioural choices are driven by what we believe about ourselves.  This set of beliefs about who we are and what we care about is called our self-identity (or self-concept). 


The reason that self-identity is of interest to those who seek to influence behaviour change is that, if we can link the desired behaviour to the individuals identity, they are more likely to adopt it.  One of the mechanisms by which identity influences behaviour is through our desire to maintain congruence between who we think we are and our actions, thus maintaining “cognitive consistency”, and avoiding the discomfort of “cognitive dissonance” (see Wake-Up Call Feb 2008 for more on the latter). 


The power of self-identity in predicting behaviour was demonstrated in a 2008 study, in which the researchers added self-identity to a set of factors already included in a widely accepted model for predicting green behaviour.  It was found that “self-identity emerged as an independent predictor of environmental activism intentions, indicating that the stronger participants’ sense of themselves as environmental activists, the greater their intentions to engage in this behaviour”.  While this is not immediately surprising, it should be remembered that there is a very large gap between people’s reported concern for environmental matters, and their subsequent actions.  Therefore, the quest to isolate the psychological factors which do predict green behaviour occupies a lot of attention for environmental educators. 


This all begs the question as to how we harness the power of identity as a tool for effective behaviour change.  The world of marketing may provide some answers.   Marketers have long known about identity, and have fashioned a whole science around “consumer identity marketing”.  A good discussion of some of the relevant concepts of identity-based marketing can be found here.  The article uses the example of Nike’s “just do it”  slogan, where “the whole idea is to try to link the Nike brand name to the athlete identity in such a way that the various products (shoes, watches, and clothing) become like a “prop” in terms of helping consumers enact their athlete identities.”  


Americus Reed, a leading researcher on identity-related marketing, describes in a 2005 article the factors involved in invoking an identity through communication.  The identity must be…


·          Salient – meaning we have to be thinking about ourselves in that way when the message is delivered.

·          Self-important - that is, it needs to be a powerful identity for us that we have a lot invested in.

·          Relevant to the product – meaning that we must perceive a strong link between the product (or behavioural choice) being presented, and the identity which is being linked to it.

·          Provides a basis to respond – it must be clear that “this what we need to do in order to make a choice which is consistent with this identity”


If we were to consider this list in terms of promoting a green behaviour, then an identity-based approach to selling the green message would be most effective when people are concerned about green issues and how they relate to them personally (salience & self-importance), and it must be clear to them exactly which behavioural choice is most environmentally friendly (relevance), and how to adopt it (basis to respond).


This checklist can present a few challenges.  In order to increase the salience of an identity, something must occur to get people thinking about themselves through that identity.  Therefore, the most effective timing to prompt the green identity will be when people are feeling particularly green, such as when they are taking public transport, making a green purchasing decision, or attending a function where the green message is being communicated.  If this is not possible, then the message must include something to get people thinking about themselves in relation to the environment.


While salience is a temporary state which can be prompted, self-importance is a more solid attitude which may be less easily prompted.  If a target audience does not view themselves as environmentally minded, it will be a tall order to appeal to an environmental identity.  In that regard, one may be better off designing an approach which recognises the extent to which a green option is consistent with an identity which this group ­does hold, such as a one which is family-oriented, or innovate, or savvy. 


Fortunately, there is some evidence that repetition can lead to the development of identity.  This means that if we can get people to try a behaviour a number of times (perhaps by providing a short-term incentive), then they will start to create a belief that “I am this type of person”.  Once this identity is in place, then it should be easier to engage them in future behaviours which fit with that identity.




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


Cultivating Sustainability workshops have been scheduled for the following Australian locations and dates.


·          Melbourne, Wed April 15th

·          Sydney, Mon April 20th

·          Brisbane, Tue April 28th

·          Hobart, Tue May 5th

·          Adelaide, Tue May 12th


These are public workshops with all welcome to attend.  


Cost:       For-profits $250pp

               Not-for-profit/Government $200pp

               Individuals/Community Groups $120pp



More information, including online registration details, can be found at



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.



In-house Workshops

Space has been left in the schedule for groups requesting an inhouse workshop in any of the locations above, which is a great option if you have a number of people wishing to attend.   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.  



For more information about the Cultivating Sustainability workshop, see www.awake.com.au/cultivating.html


60 Seconds with… Mandy, a fundraiser for Amnesty International


What first got you focused on sustainability?


I like to support a few charities and thought it was time I supported one which was doing things for the environment.  Because we don’t want to live in a s**thole do we? ACF did a good job of presenting the issues to me and really impressed me as making a difference, so I support them.


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


I always recycle – everything I can.


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


Forgetting to turn off the hot water system in our house.  We’re supposed to turn it off when we leave in the morning, but I sometimes completely forget.


Interesting Article of the Month   Sweatshop Labor is Wrong - Unless the Jeans are Cute”



Sweatshop Labor is Wrong Unless the Jeans are Cute: Motivated Moral Disengagement (2009) 

By Neeru Paharia and Rohit Deshpandé

Harvard Business School Working Paper


Thanks to Nick from Etiko for sending this article – Etiko provides great sports and fashion gear from sustainable and ethical sources.


What is it about? 

This article discusses how we use “moral disengagement” to alleviate our conscience when considering the purchase of sweatshop-made products. 


What did they find?

One main finding of the research was that, when the desirability of the product in question is particularly high, we are more inclined to rationalise purchases which would usually violate our principles. 


What can we take from this?

One of the biggest challenges for those involved in behaviour change for sustainability is to close the gap between what we believe and what we do.  This research provides an insight into the mental process we adopt when we are making a decision which is at odds with our moral compass.  The study also shows how we can be motivated to disengage from our conscience by increasing the desirability of the choice in question.  As the authors note “If people were not able to reduce this dissonance, they might actually demand that their products be produced free of harm”



Exercise of the Month – Revealing Identities


This months exercise follows on from the feature article above about identity.  It is an opportunity to reflect on our own identities, and the way in which they influence our decisions.


1.       Choose something you have recently purchased (a good or a service) that you feel is consistent with an identity which you hold (an item of clothing can be good for this)

2.       What was the identity you were serving/fulfilling?

3.       How strongly do you really hold that identity?

4.       What prompted you to purchase that good/service at that time?

5.       How did you decide that product/service would meet/fulfill/serve that identity?  Was there anything in the way that the product/service was presented that evoked that identity at the time?


By recognising the thought processes which we go through when making decisions, we are more able to make deliberate choices which are consistent with how we really wish to live. 


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 2009