Welcome to the October 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 – Feedback: A Measured Approach

·         Upcoming Workshop – Cultivating Sustainability in Melbourne

·         Interesting Article of the Month – How The Public Thinks Lower-Carbon Behaviour Could Be Made Mainstream

·         60 seconds with…  Jessica at Cottonbottom

·         Exercise of the Month – Speaking Directly To Values


Feature Article –Feedback: A Measured Approach


In recent times we have been presented with plenty of opportunities to measure “how we’re going” with regards to our environmental behaviour.  Many power and gas bills now include a graph which shows our total emissions compared to last month, while we are often being invited to measure our carbon footprint through online calculators.  Home energy audits are another common initiative being promoted by councils and other various organisations.  The assumption is that, by monitoring our resource use, we are more likely to reduce it.  But does that assumption hold water?

At first glance, the answer appears to be “yes”.  A review of various studies into the impact of audits and other feedback mechanisms reveals that, for the most part, people do indeed subsequently reduce their resource use.  Norwegian research found that the inclusion of usage data in electricity bills, including comparisons to previous years consumption, led to significant reductions in electricity use.  A 2008 study into the results of a household energy audit program in Western Australia found that 71% of participants reported noticing a decrease in their domestic energy use as a result of participating in the program.  

A useful summary of research into the effectiveness of feedback was conducted in 2006 for DEFRA by Sarah Darby, who concludes that “savings have been shown in the region of 5-15% and 0-10% for direct and indirect feedback respectively”. 

Why does feedback work?  There are a number of plausible mechanisms by which receiving feedback can motivate green behaviour, all of which may apply to some extent. 

The most simple explanation is that it gives us a sense of control over our actions.  When we are able to see the effect of the changes we are making, we have more of a sense of power and control – factors which have been demonstrated as important drivers of environmentally sustainable behaviour. 

Another possible driver of the feedback-behaviour link, particularly where we are actively involved in the feedback process, is the idea of cognitive consistency.  This refers to our motivation for our behaviour to match our beliefs and values.  If we care enough to get an energy audit done, for instance, then we are likely to consider ourselves engaged in the idea of energy conservation.  If we then act contrary to this belief, by failing to take any measures to reduce our energy consumption, we are likely to feel a sense of hypocrisy, or cognitive dissonance.  This may have been the case in the findings by the Norwegian researchers cited above, who observed that asking residents to read their own meters and report the data had a particularly strong effect on reducing consumption.  The act of being actively involved appears to have cemented the belief that “I am engaged in this process”.

Yet another explanation for the impact of feedback may be that it disrupts our consumption habits.  It is generally accepted that habits consist largely of behaviours which are undertaken unconsciously.  For instance, leaving the tap on while brushing our teeth is one unconscious behaviour which many people still do, even though it can waste over 4000 litres of water per year.  The introduction of feedback may be enough of an intervention to cause people to think about their behaviour and recognise where they could change their habits – without the feedback, people may simply never give it any thought. 

Although it is apparent that feedback on its own can have some positive effects, most studies conducted in this area recognise that feedback as a standalone intervention is not guaranteed to produce long-lasting results, and indeed may be a wasted opportunity when not combined with other measures to encourage conservation behaviour.  Indeed, most of the studies themselves make use of several tactics to change behaviour.  Most commonly, feedback is combined with tips for how people can change their behaviour. 

A 2007 Dutch study found that a combination of feedback, goal-setting and tailored information resulted in a 5.1% reduction in household energy use.  

A study of “EcoTeams” found that a combination of information, feedback and social interaction resulted in significant changes in household behaviour, including a 32% reduction in waste to landfill.   The researchers emphasise the importance of a socially supportive environment in facilitating the likelihood of behaviour change.  This may also have the effect of activating the “social norm” which drives us to want to fit in and keep up with others in our community. 

To summarise, feedback appears to be a vital part of many behaviour change efforts.  Not only does it get people actively engaged and thinking about their behaviour, but it can give them the sense of power and control over their outcomes which is important for motivating them to change.   Feedback can be an even more effective tool when combined with other tactics which support behaviour change. 



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 Workshop – Cultivating Sustainability in Melbourne


The next Cultivating Sustainability workshop has been scheduled for Tuesday, November 24th in Melbourne (Venue TBA)


This is a public workshop 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.


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


Interesting Article of the Month   How The Public Thinks Lower-Carbon Behaviour Could Be Made Mainstream



Consumer Power - How The Public Thinks Lower-Carbon Behaviour Could Be Made Mainstream

By Reg Platt and Simon Retallack

Institute for Public Policy Research


What is it about? 

This UK study examines the attitudes towards green issues of a specific sector of the population, called the Now People, who are generally disengaged and not being reached by current climate change communications.  The study attempts to identify the drivers of this group, and recommend ways to reach and influence them more effectively.


What did they find?

Now People are most driven by fashion and fun.  The research finds that they are disconnected from climate change efforts because it does not talk directly to things they value, and they see it as boring and that environmental advocates are smug and self-righteous.  The authors suggest that communications to this group needs to move away from talking about climate change, and instead talk about how they can save money and look trendy by embracing greener alternatives. 


What can we take from this?

The authors make the point that many environmental advocates fit into the sector of the population known as Pioneers, who are interested in social issues and naturally embrace green messages.  If these are the people responsible for designing climate change communications, they have to be mindful of the fact that a big proportion of the population thinks differently and values different things to them.  This research provides some useful tips for reaching a high-consuming group who are proving difficult to engage in behaviour change for sustainability.


60 Seconds with….. Jessica at Cottonbottom


What first got you focused on sustainability?


I’ve been a greenie for as long as I can remember.  I was a scout at a young age, which embedded very early the importance of doing good things for the environment. 


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


Using cloth nappies – of course! 


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


Not having a composting bin, which is very naughty of me.  We have a tiny backyard, so would not know what to do with the compost anyway.


Exercise of the Month – Speaking Directly To Values


The article of the month above highlights the importance of recognising the values and drivers of people when we are trying to influence them.  This months exercise gets us to think about the drivers for people we are trying to influence, and incorporate it into our approach.


1.      Pick an individual or group who you are trying to influence to adopt a greener lifestyle, or maybe to adopt a specific behaviour.  This may be in your workplace, your community or your home.

2.      What does this person/group value most?

·         What is their biggest concern?

·         What do their purchases and possessions reflect about them?

·         What would the new behaviour need to deliver for them in order to convince them to adopt it?

1.      Next time you have an opportunity to influence this person/group, try to look for ways in which you can adjust your style and content to reflect the things you have identified that they value most.


By speaking directly to things that people value, you are making it more real and relevant for them, and stand a much better chance of getting your point across in a way which inspires action.


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