Wake-Up Call
May 2008
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Welcome to the May 2008 Wake-Up Call, Awake's monthly newsletter for research and news about behaviour change for sustainability.

In this edition of Wake-up Call...


60 Seconds with… Loren from Organarchy

What first got you focused on sustainability?
There was no one catalyst.  I have just had a gradual awareness that we canít keep living the way we are and have to consider future generations.

What is the sustainable choice you have recently made of which you are most proud?
I have always recycled, since before it was convenient or common.  Eg. have always recycled scrap paper.

What is a less sustainable choice that you are not so proud of?
I donít buy local as much as I should, I tend to buy a lot of imported products.  Being a student, sometimes price has to be a priority.


Research Finding of the Month - Weathercocks and Signposts

Download for free from the bottom of the page here

What is it about? 
This report from the WWF Strategies for Change program "critically reassesses current approaches to motivating environmentally-friendly behaviour change"

What did they find?
This is a comprehensive review of behaviour change theories and research related to sustainability.  The author makes the case that the marketing approach currently favoured is not going to facilitate the fundamental changes in lifestyle and values required to deal with the environmental challenges facing us.  The main premise is that the marketing approach for the most part encourages small, painless behaviour changes which will allow us to have our cake and eat it too, without causing us to really examine our values and way of life.  This tactic is seen as trying to fit sustainability into existing consumer values, rather than promoting the intrinsic values of sustainability itself. 

What can we take from this?
This excellent article issues a challenge to those organisations who are involved in promoting sustainability, to be clear about the values they represent and to attempt to enrol people in an ideology, rather than diluting their message to fit their audience.     This challenge may also apply to corporations, who all too often demand that green initiatives must be seen to have a financial return in order to be accepted, thus ensuring they fit within the dominant values mindset of profit as the only goal.  The approach advocated by the author entails a real paradigm shift, one which may be needed if we are to go beyond scratching the surface of behaviour change for sustainability.


Exercise of the Month - Giving Feedback

This month, look for opportunities to provide feedback to someone, or influence them, using the tips from the feature article above.  Remember
  • Donít make the other person wrong
  • Be willing to listen and negotiate
  • Be specific and offer solutions
  • Speak directly to their values

See if a change in your approach results in a change in the reactions and outcomes you experience. 

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 - How To Stay Friends And Influence People

If we are going to avoid environmental disaster, those of us who are determined to do something about it are going to have to influence those who aren't.  This can be a tricky job, and one that needs a fair amount of skill, finesse and courage to get right. 

Let's consider some of the opportunities which arise for us to draw on our powers of persuasion...
  • Weíre at a BBQ and someone starts complaining about the greenies sabotaging every transport project (aka new freeways) and urban development (aka new suburban shopping malls).
  • We watch as our work colleague throws another bucket load of paper and recyclable plastic into the rubbish bin
  • Our teenage offspring emerges from the shower after 20 minutes

These are just some of the many scenarios that can cause us to take a deep breath and think to ourselves, "here we go again, shall I have this conversation or not?".   

It is easy to get condemned as a "Green Nazi  - those much-maligned folk who trudge around pointing out everybody elseís faults and spoiling all the fun.  So, how do we approach this task while still staying on party invitation lists?  Letís take a look at some research on influencing strategies to see what works.

A study by
Osbaldiston and Sheldon found that an influencing style which supported autonomy and developed "internalised motivation  was much more likely to result in sustained behaviour change. In laypersons terms, this means that if you can get peopleís buy-in, they are more likely to change their behaviour.   The authors conclude that "participants who initially identified with their environmental goals, and/or anticipated enjoying them, performed considerably better than participants who felt put-upon by their goals or complied out of a sense of guilt". 

From the business world comes a study by
Falbe & Yukl which looked at the most effective management style to influence others.  Firstly, the authors distinguished between "compliance  and "commitment", and concluded that the former is useful for short term gains, but that the latter is a more effective goal for long term behaviour change. 

They then compared the effectiveness of various tactics for gaining commitment.  The most successful tactics for creating commitment are inspiration (appealing to values and aspirations) and consultation (seeking input and allowing changes).  Hard tactics such as pressure and legitimating (making it about rules and authority) at best create compliance, and at worst create resistance. 

It is obvious from the research above that, in order to create long lasting change, we are not going to be able to rely on threats and coercion, at a personal or societal level. 

What are the consequences of getting this wrong?  One psychological phenomenon which can be triggered by choosing the wrong influencing strategy is known as "reactance".  Reactance is "a motivational state directed toward the re-establishment of those free behaviors which have been eliminated or are threatened to be so  (
Tertoolen, van Kreveld & Verstraten, 1998).  Again, in plain speak this means if someone tries to force us to stop doing something, we are more motivated to do it.   

Reactance was clearly demonstrated in a
1975 study in Miami, following a ban on the sale of detergents containing phosphates.  The attitudes of housewives in Miami were compared to those in nearby Tampa, where no such ban existed.  Miami housewives were found to perceive phosphate-containing detergents as far more desirable, while viewing the non-phosphate alternatives as less favourable, compared to their Tampa counterparts.  In summary, by outright banning the polluting products, authorities served to make them seem more desirable. 

Here are some tips for influencing others, while avoiding reactance and hopefully maintaining a positive relationship.
  • Be willing to engage in a 2-way conversation:  Nobody likes to be told you are right and they are wrong - besides, the world seldom works that way.  While being clear about your position and the reasons for it, bear in mind that there is always more than one way of viewing a situation, and this person is currently viewing it from a different perspective than you.   Not necessarily a wrong one.
  • Be flexible:   As discussed earlier, a consultative approach works best for gaining commitment (as opposed to compliance). This means that the other party has some say in how change will be applied.  The key thing is that the intention or goal is the same, but there may be more than one way of getting there, and the more the other party feels they have decided, the more ownership they will take.
  • Be specific and suggest solutions: Rather than a blanket "you need to stop being so wasteful", a more effective framework is to point out a specific behaviour and suggest an alternative.   For instance, "did you know that plastic bottle will sit in the ground for thousands of years, whereas if you put it in the recycling bin, you will be saving a vast amount of water, energy, oil and avoiding pollution?"
  • Speak to values: If you can frame feedback in a way which accesses something the audience values deeply, you stand a better chance of influencing them.  While many people will be swayed by self-interest arguments ("turning off the lights will save on energy bills"),  research is increasingly showing that connecting sustainable behaviour to deeper values is needed if the required big lifestyle changes are to take place.  These intrinsic values which many people hold include integrity, equality, family and wellbeing.
  • Walk the talk:  Last week I had a conversation with a climate change denier and politely enquired if he had seen An Inconvenient Truth.  His reply was "no, but did you see the report about the energy bill for Al Goreís mansion?!".   Knowing the impact of the movie, and the great work that Al Gore does in raising awareness of environmental issues, it is a shame that so many people choose to focus on that revelation as a justification for ignoring the message.  But it also serves as a reminder of the adage that  "people donít so much listen to what you say, they watch what you do. 

Itís tempting to think that it is getting too late to be nice.  In fact, many of those working in the sustainability field have written off any chance that behaviour change will deliver the changes necessary, and that legislated change is the only chance we have.  Legislation and regulation is definitely going to be a big part of a sustainable future, but there is still plenty of room for passionate people to motivate and inspire others to make voluntary changes.

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