Welcome to the March 2010 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 – Attitudes

·         Future Workshops – Cultivating Sustainability in Australia and New Zealand

·         60 seconds with… Jan, Landcare Victoria Volunteer

·         Interesting Article of the Month – Did “An Inconvenient Truth” Achieve Anything?

·         Exercise of the Month – Where Did You Get That Attitude?


Feature Article – Attitudes


Unsurprisingly, a key determinant of our likelihood to engage in green behaviour is our attitude towards it. Do we think it is a good idea?  Do we think our efforts will be worth it?


Attitudes are our judgments or evaluations towards a certain object or behaviour.  Several studies, including a 2007 meta-analysis, have found attitudes to be among the most important factors predicting our pro-environment behaviour. So it is worth investigating how attitudes form, and how we can influence them.


Attitudes are assembled from three types of information: beliefs about the objects characteristics, feelings and emotions about the object, and information about past and current actions toward the object.  For instance, we may have developed a positive attitude towards cycling through an analysis of its merits (belief), a good feeling that we get from it (emotions), or a series of successful cycling experiences (past actions). Often a combination of all three serve to create an attitude.


It is worth noting that knowledge alone does not necessarily change attitudes. For example, while knowledge is an important piece of the puzzle for people to start cycling, a number of other things will also affect a persons attitude towards cycling, such as perception of weather, safety and comfort.


Some attitudes are stronger than others, in terms of the extent to which they endure (persistence), their resilience to change (resistance) and the likelihood that they will result in behaviour. A major field of study involves identifying the factors which affect the strength of an attitude. One useful theory is the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), created by Petty and Cacioppo in 1986.  The ELM describes two ways in which we form attitudes.  The first is the central processing route, whereby we are motivated and interested, and carefully weigh up the information which shapes our attitudes.  Alternatively, we can use the peripheral processing route, whereby more superficial aspects of a message will shape our attitude.  The extent to which we are likely to rely on each route is dependent on a number of things, including the degree of interest we have in the topic, and the relevance it has to us.  For instance, when evaluating a green cleaning product, a passionate environmentalist may undertake their own analysis of its merits, rather than relying on the claims of the advertiser. A less engaged person, however, is more likely to be swayed by the claims of a celebrity endorser for example.  Both may form the same attitude towards the product, but through quite different paths of attitude formation.


Evidence suggests that attitudes adopted via the central route are more likely to endure than those arrived at via the peripheral route. Because of the investment we make in coming to a careful decision, we are more likely to feel on solid ground, and will be reluctant to change our minds. When promoting sustainability, creating resilient attitudes is important, because the aim is to change behaviour – not just attitudes. In sustainability in particular, there is no shortage of excuses and opportunities to deviate from the path of “doing the right thing”, and therefore a strong commitment to persevering is often required. If people have made a mild commitment in response to a gimmick or emotive persuasion, it is easy for them to back down when it comes to following through with behaviour. If, however, they have come to a clear and considered conclusion about the best course of action, they are more likely to resist distractions and setbacks to follow through.  The stronger and more resistant attitude they have formed will often prevail.


The difficulty, of course, lies in the fact that people increasingly feel overwhelmed by information, especially relating to climate change.  We are also predisposed to take “cognitive shortcuts” when making up our minds about an issue, as we don’t have the capacity to analyse everything.  The key to convincing someone that it is worth investing the time and effort required to shape a well-informed attitude appears to lie in the personal relevance of the topic. A number of factors make up perceived relevance, among them the degree to which it will “affect me personally”. This may provide an important clue as to the best way to communicate issues such as climate change.  As long as people can distance themselves from the issues by seeing it as something that will happen to people in faraway countries, or to future generations, it will be difficult to instill durable pro-environmental attitudes that translate to behaviour. However, if our efforts to promote sustainability can be targeted and framed in such a way that the audience sees how it is directly relevant to something they value, the substance of the communication is more likely to be absorbed and acted upon.




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


Future Workshops – Cultivating Sustainability in Australia and New Zealand


The training calendar for 2010 is currently being developed.  The following are tentative dates for Cultivating Sustainability workshops in Australia. Please note, some of these dates differ from those previously advised.


Canberra, April 14 (Confirmed – register here)

Sydney, May 4

Perth, June 2

Brisbane, June 21

Byron Bay, June 23

Hobart, July 13


A series of workshops in New Zealand are also being planned for May (dates locations to be confirmed). 


To register interest for workshops in New Zealand or Australia, please email timc@awake.com.au


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



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 the most 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


60 Seconds with….. Jan, Landcare Victoria Volunteer


What first got you focused on sustainability?


My parents were a big influence.  They taught me caring about the environment. 


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


Helping land-holders get back on their feet after the bushfires.  Giving them advice on the environmental processes involved.  By increasing their understanding, you can see their confidence increasing. 


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


Driving my car too much. I’m looking at ways to ride my bike more.


Interesting Article of the Month –  Did “An Inconvenient Truth” Achieve Anything?



An Inconvenient Truth Increases Knowledge, Concern, and Willingness to Reduce Greenhouse Gases

By Jessica M. Nolan

Environment and Behavior, Online First, 20 Jan, 2010


What is it about? 

The researchers examined the effects of the climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth on a group of the movie-going public, along with a separate group of students.  The measures included knowledge and concern about climate change, intention to make behavioural changes, and actual behaviour changes.


What did they find?

The results showed that viewing An Inconvenient Truth resulted in an increase in peoples knowledge about climate change, their concern about it, and their intentions to change their own behaviour to address it.  One month later, peoples knowledge and concern were still elevated.  However, there was very little evidence that people had followed through on the behaviour which they had committed to.


What can we take from this?

These findings are consistent with previous research that shows that an increase in knowledge does not always translate to a change in behaviour.  Furthermore, even expressing an intention to change behaviour is no sure indication that people will follow through.  Studies such as this underline the importance of an approach which identifies the various psychological, physical and social factors which influence behaviour, and takes steps to address them in a structured way.


Exercise of the Month – Where Did You Get That Attitude?


The feature article above distinguishes between attitudes formed through our beliefs about the object, our feelings about it, and our experiences of it.


This months exercise is an opportunity to identify how our own attitudes to some green behaviours were formed.

1.      Write down your attitude towards the following

a.      Turning off appliances at the wall after use

b.      Composting

c.      Taking public transport

d.      Cycling

Remember, an attitude is an evaluation of the merits of an object or behaviour. (e.g. “I don’t cycle because it is unsafe”)


2.      Where did the attitude mostly come from?

a.      An analysis of the behaviour (separate from actually experiencing it)?

b.      A feeling or emotion you associate with the behaviour (either positive or negative)?

c.      An experience of the behaviour (either positive or negative)?


By identifying where an attitude came from, you may actually see an opportunity to re-examine it and give the behaviour a try.



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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