Welcome to the May 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 – Somebody Should Do Something

·         Upcoming Workshops – Cultivating Sustainability in Australia and New Zealand

·         60 seconds with… Cathy from Ron D Swan

·         Interesting Article of the Month – I Didn’t Realise How Green I Am

·         Exercise of the Month – Think Global, Act Local


Feature Article – Somebody Should Do Something


In a well-documented case of “bystander apathy”, a young woman called Kitty Genovese was beaten to death in New York in 1964 while 38 people looked from their windows. Nobody called the police during the one and a half hour attack. The plethora of research conducted on this and similar cases has revealed the power of “diffusion of responsibility”, which occurs when people fail to act due to a lack of individual accountability which occurs in certain circumstances. (“The Tipping Point”, by Malcolm Gladwell, discusses this phenomenon in depth). When we feel that responsibility is shared between a vast number of people, our own responsibility is somehow diminished. Could this be the case in situations where people fail to act on environmental issues? 

Environmental problems certainly fit the profile of the kind of shared responsibility in which a diffusion of responsibility would take place. Research reveals that several key factors contribute to such a diffusion.

Firstly, a larger group size reduces the extent to which individuals feel a sense of responsibility. Several studies have show that, for instance, when people observe an emergency in a large group, they are less likely to intervene than when they are on their own, or in a smaller group. When we consider the challenges of global warming, both the cause and possible solutions involve an immense number of people. Therefore, it is easy to see how people would see their own share of the responsibility as pretty insignificant.

Closely linked to group size is the power of anonymity. When people perceive that they will not be found out, they are less likely to act in the public interest. Many studies have concluded that the depersonalising effects of urbanisation have reduced peoples sense of community accountability. As many environmentally significant behaviours are done in private, such as spending time in the shower and using home energy, there is very little social accountability. Indeed, research has found that curbside recycling behaviour is very much linked to being seen to be doing the right thing by the neighbours, perhaps explaining it’s relative popularity as a green behaviour.

The distance in time and space of the environmental issues confronting us are another perfect opportunity to diffuse responsibility. Many people feel that the problems are so intangible due to the apparent lack of immediacy, and the belief that they will take place primarily in far-flung parts of the world, that their actions can’t possibly make a significant difference. This leads to what is termed a lack of “efficacy” – one’s ability to make a difference. Self-efficacy is well-established as a key driver of green behaviours.

If we are to overcome the issue of diffusion of responsibility as a barrier to sustainable behaviour, it makes sense to address each of it’s parts individually.

Firstly, the issue of group size suggests that people need to feel that they are part of a smaller group responsible for addressing problems with personally relevant consequences. Hence the importance of the “think global, act local” concept. While it is difficult to see how one person can stop the Arctic ice shelf melting, it is likely to be a lot more realistic to see how they can contribute to making the local beach cleaner. Engaging people in such localised efforts is a key step to increasing participation in green initiatives.

Anonymity may also be addressed by community-scale efforts. Where people identify with a group, the peer pressure and effect of social norms is a strong driver for behaviour which is consistent with that group. This is where the importance of pledges and commitments is underlined, as a way of creating group accountability.

Similar to group size, distance in time and space needs to be overcome by focusing on more local, immediate effects. Wherever local examples of environmental problems can be highlighted, the more salient the message is likely to be. People respond more strongly to threats which are immediate and close to home, making it more difficult to believe that it is someone else’s problem.

In summary, engaging people in sustainable behaviours starts with getting them to accept their responsibility to take action. The several psychological factors which lead to a diffusion of this responsibility are best addressed through a focus on building a sense of community, and engaging people in local actions. When people can see for themselves the problems, and their own crucial role in addressing them, they are more likely to take action themselves, rather than waiting for someone else to do something.



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.


Denmark, WA, May 31

Perth, June 2 – Workshop Full

Sydney, June 29

Melbourne, July 6

Hobart, July 13

Brisbane, August 24


Dates for NZ workshops are as follows


Christchurch, August 2

Nelson, August 3

Wellington, August 5

Auckland, August 11


Note: Some space has been left in the schedule for groups requesting an in-house workshop, in or near any of the locations above, which is a great option if you have over 10 people who would benefit from the workshop. This can take the form of a full-day Cultivating Sustainability workshop, or a workshop customised to meet the needs of your group.

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.  



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 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….. Cathy from Ron D Swan


What first got you focused on sustainability?

I’ve always had an interest in not wasting things, it’s something I’ve been aware of all my life.  Not sure where it comes from.

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

I’m diligent about removing my kids bathwater with a bucket and putting it on the plants.

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

Taking too-long showers.


Interesting Article of the Month –  I Didn’t Realise How Green I Am



Positive cueing: Promoting sustainable consumer behavior by cueing common environmental behaviors as environmental

By Gert Cornelissen, Mario Pandelaere, Luk Warlop, Siegfried Dewitte

International Journal of Research in Marketing

Volume 25, Issue 1, March 2008, Pages 46-55

Downloadable here


What is it about? 

This article looks at the effects of “positive cueing” on environmentally friendly behaviour. The premise is that people often undertake common environmentally positive behaviours, but do not necessarily see them as environmentally positive (Riding a bike to work for example). The authors tested whether, by pointing out to people that they were indeed undertaking environmentally positive behaviours, it would result in more positive ecological attitudes and behaviours.


What did they find?

Several separate studies are reported in this paper, which reveal that positive cueing did indeed result in an increase in the extent to which people viewed common behaviours as environmentally-motivated. Furthermore, doing so meant they were more likely to view ecological attitudes and actions more favourably.  Finally, in a simulation, the research subjects were more likely to choose environmentally friendly products after cueing.


What can we take from this?

This research underlines the importance of reinforcing the good things that people are already doing.  If people can see that they are often doing the right thing by the environment, they are likely to start forming attitudes that they are more environmentally motivated than perhaps what they had previously given themselves credit for. Such a change in attitude can lead to future behaviours with positive benefits for the environment. These findings also reveal positive cueing to be a simple, cost-effective approach which holds promise for including in programs designed to promote and influence environmentally sustainable behaviours.


Exercise of the Month – Think Global, Act Local


Following on from the feature article above, this months exercise looks at how we can address global issues by focusing on local actions.

1.      Write down 3 global environmental concerns you have (e.g. global warming, biodiversity loss)

2.      For each of the 3 concerns, try to identify how the effects of these might be evident in your local community – either currently or in the future. (e.g. local waterways drying up, threats to local species)

3.      What are the causes of these problems? In particular, what is happening locally that is contributing the problems?

4.      For each of these, identify a way in which you can contribute to local efforts to address the causes. (e.g. join a group lobbying for better cycling infrastructure, or help to promote energy saving)

When we see the link between global issues and more tangible local issues, it makes it more real for us and helps us see a way in which we can make a meaningful contribution.


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 2010