Welcome to the October 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 – The Difference Between Caring And Prioritising

·         Upcoming Workshop – Cultivating Sustainability in Adelaide

·         Upcoming Workshop – Cultivating Sustainability in Sydney with the NPDISE

·         60 seconds with… Laura Scrimgeour, University of Canterbury

·         Interesting article of the month - Are Green Actions Still Seen As Low-Status?

·         Exercise of the Month – The Art Of Prioritise


Feature Article – The Difference Between Caring And Prioritising


People care about a lot of things. Family, friends, health, the environment, having fun. If we were to ask just about anyone if they place importance on any one of those things, the answer is likely to be a resounding “yes”. Therefore, when it comes to the environment, it is easy to say “yes, environmental issues are important to me”. And we probably mean it. However, the reason that many voluntary environmental behaviours appear to have such slow uptake, compared to the concern expressed by the public, is that they often require sustainability to be prioritised over some other consideration.

Every decision requires, by definition, some kind of prioritisation process. Do we stay home and study, or go out and party? Do we choose the quick route or the scenic one? Decisions concerning the environment are no different. Do we buy the cheap one or the local one? Do we choose the speed of a car or the eco benefits of the train? The benefits represented by the various choices are all valid to us at some level. Nobody likes to waste time or money. Hence, the futility of gauging the importance of environmental issues by asking people to “rate how concerned you are about the environment”.

Several studies have done just that, and by and large the results show that people do care about the environment. A 2008 McKinsey survey found that “87 percent of consumers worry about the environmental and social impact of the products they buy”. In 2010, the Australian Food & Grocery Council (AFGC) found “80% report that they are actually thinking about environmental issues when shopping”. Taken on their own, these numbers suggest that people are overwhelmingly in support of environmental initiatives. However, when it comes to actually doing something about it, people are reluctant to go out of their way. The McKinsey study found that no more than 33% of the consumers in the survey say they are ready to buy green products or have already done so. In the AFGC research, 13% of shoppers reported that they had purchased a product “just now” because of its environmental features.

So, what goes wrong? What explains the gap between 80%-plus concern and action as low as 13%. The answer could well lie in the realm of priorities and values. Although the AGFC survey found that 80% of people were thinking of green issues, we would probably find at least as many were thinking of price, quality, convenience etc. In other words, thinking about an issue is different to making a decision based on that issue above all others.

The gap between overall concern and priority is demonstrated by the findings of research into Americans views of the top priorities for the federal government. Almost half (44%) of those surveyed believed that environmental protection should be a “top priority” for 2010. However, this ranks the issue as 16th out of 21 issues surveyed, well below the economy, military and terrorism. The issue of global warming came dead last.

So, what do people value? Analysis of 500 responses to the MVQ, a values questionnaire created by Awake, shows that on average people allocate 66 points to the environmental value, out of a potential total of 100 points. This places environment as 19th out of 22 values measured. The top 5 values people report are insight, integrity, independence, family and fairness. So, while people would probably say the environment is important to them, there are 18 other more important things competing for their attention.

Back to the AGFC survey mentioned above. When it comes to prioritising environmental factors, only 14% of respondents said they are willing to compromise on cost, while a mere 6% will compromise on convenience. However you look at it, that makes it a tall order to convince people to pay a bit more for locally sourced, less processed products.

It is for this reason that our job as sustainability promoters is not to get people to care more, it is to get them to act more. It is unlikely that we will have much impact if we set out to change peoples values, by moving environment up the values ranking. For a start, we would have to consider the question of which values would we like to see moved down the priority list.  Family? Integrity?  It seems more promising to demonstrate how the eco-friendly option can meet the values people do hold strongly, so they are not forced to compromise on things dear to their heart. So it is worth considering, for instance, how can the green option meet the Family value (a cleaner, greener future?), or the Integrity value (match my actions to my environmental concerns?).

The more we can demonstrate to people that green choice will benefit them, not just the environment, the more likely it is that they will be prepared to make it a priority.



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 Adelaide


A Cultivating Sustainability workshop has been confirmed for Adelaide on Tuesday, November 30th.

To register interest, please email timc@awake.com.au. 

Online registration details and further information 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 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


Upcoming Workshop – Cultivating Sustainability in Sydney with the NPDISE


Awake is proud to have been selected as a provider of one of 14 modules for the National Professional Development Initiative for Sustainability Educators. The NPDISE  is supported and endorsed by Australia’s peak environmental education organisations. It identifies, recognises and facilitates delivery of endorsed professional development for sustainability / environmental education practitioners.

As part of the NPDISE initiative, a Cultivating Sustainability workshop will be held in Sydney on November 24th. The workshop is open to anyone who is interested.

All information and registration details can be found at http://www.npdise.com.au


60 Seconds with….. Laura Scrimgeour, University of Canterbury


What first got you focused on sustainability?

I've been concerned about the environment for as long as I can remember, but the thing that really got me hooked on sustainability was having a friend invite me to one of the University of Canterbury environment club parties. Just one more example of the power of social norms!

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

I'm pretty proud of recently cutting my meat consumption by about 75%. I reduced the meat portions in my meaty meals and started making a lot more vegetarian and vegan meals with lots of pulses and olive oil to make up the fat and protein. It took a bit of getting used to, but now I don't need meat in my dinner for my stomach to admit that it's full.

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

I fly far too much. I live in New Zealand and my family lives in Canada. Skype is great, but every couple years I just feel the need to go home and see them in the flesh. Plus I miss the snow.


Interesting Article of the Month –  Are Green Actions Still Seen As Low-Status


To Conserve or Not to Conserve: Is Status the Question?

By Teresa H. L. Welte and Phyllis A. Anastasio

Environment and Behavior, 2009, Online First

What is it about? 

The authors refer to earlier research which showed that many conservation behaviours were perceived as “low-status”, thus presenting a barrier for status-conscious people to engage in them. This study sets out to investigate whether anything has changed.

What did they find?

The study found that fictitious characters who incorporated recycling and composting into their daily routine were seen as no different in status than those who did not. This contrasts with 1995 research which found that these behaviours conveyed lower status.

What can we take from this?

The authors conclude that these findings point to a change in perceptions of conservation behaviours. Such behaviours are now seen as more mainstream and unrelated to status. Given the increasing reliance of sustainability advocates on conveying social norms and stating that “green is the new black”, this is an important step in normalising green behaviours.


Exercise of the Month – The Art Of Prioritise


We often talk about our intention to make something our priority in the future. Unless we are able to increase the overall time and resources we have available to us, any increase in priority in one area of our lives needs to be accompanied by a reduction in the priority given to another area.

1.      List 3 things that you are planning to make a priority in the next 12 month (e.g., getting fit, saving money, getting into nature more)

2.      For each of those priorities, what do you need to place a lower priority on? (e.g. Partying, watching TV, working extra hours at the office)

Deciding what we are going to make a priority is only half the job – we also need to be explicit about what we are going to invest less of our personal resources in. Next time you hear someone (especially a politician) talk about making something a priority, try asking them what they are going to de-prioritise!


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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