Welcome to the September 2009 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 – Doing It For The Money

·         Workshop Report – Cultivating Sustainability in New Zealand

·         Interesting Article of the Month – Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox

·         60 seconds with…  Audua Castledine-Ruiz  from Green Pages

·         Exercise of the Month – Does the Motive Make a Difference?


Feature Article – Doing It For The Money


For a large percentage of individuals and organisations, the most compelling case for engaging in environmentally sustainable behaviours is to save money, or make money.  For that reason, the most popular green initiatives appear to be the ones where it can be demonstrated that it will be good for the bottom line.  Changing to energy efficient light bulbs, for instance, is one such measure. Making a house more draft resistant in order to save on heating costs is another. 

At corporate level, leaders often need to see the dollar benefits prior to signing off on green initiatives.  Preferably these benefits take the form of cold hard cash savings, but there is increasing recognition of the importance to the balance sheet of good corporate citizenship and employee attractiveness.

This raises the question – does money work effectively as a motivator for green behaviours, and under which circumstances?

There is a fair amount of evidence which suggests that, yes, financial considerations do have an impact on our behaviour when it comes to the environment.   A 2005 review of research into household energy savings found that, by and large, measures such as providing monetary rewards for electricity savings have proved to be successful.  Fluctuations in petrol prices have also proven to be a powerful motivator for seeking alternatives to driving to work, providing further evidence of the impact of money on our decisions.   

There are, however, a number of limitations to the so-called “rational-economic model”, which assumes that people’s engagement in certain behaviours is determined by whether or not it is in their financial interests to do so.  For instance, the 2005 review outlined above found that, although financial incentives showed success for initial engagement in sustainable behaviours, the effects were often short-lived.  These findings were echoed by De Young, who found that the effects of incentives often wore off when the financial reinforcement was discontinued. 

Another review, by Gonzales, examined the ineffectiveness of a large-scale energy audit program in the USA, which provided free energy audits and incentives to undertake energy saving retrofits.  The study concluded that the reason for the poor uptake of energy-efficient actions was due to the lack of persuasive communication by the auditors – in other words, people need to be able to ­see the financial benefits of acting.  Gonzales demonstrated this theory by training a group of auditors in persuasion techniques, which greatly increased the uptake of energy efficient actions in those households visited by the trained auditors.

There is also a strong body of evidence which suggests that our reason for adopting green behaviours will influence the degree to which we stick with them in the long term.  This theory contends that, when we make a green choice for the sake of the environment (rather than just money), we are more likely to see ourselves as pro-environment, and therefore more likely to adopt similar behaviours which will help reinforce this perception of ourselves.   This effect has been demonstrated in relation to social responsibility by Burger and Caldwell, who observed that “Participants given $1 to sign a homelessness petition were less likely to see themselves as altruistic than participants not given the monetary incentive. The paid participants also complied less often with a request to work on a canned food drive 2 days later than unpaid participants”. 

Therefore, if our aim is to promote a range of pro-environment behaviours by providing an initial incentive to get people started, we may find that indeed the target behaviour increased, but there is no evidence to suggest that this will spill over to other green behaviours (something discussed at length in the WWF article Simple and Painless)

There are a couple of areas where the provision or emphasis of a financial incentive can have a worthwhile effect on increasing the uptake of green behaviour. 

The first is where we want people to take a single action in order to reduce their ongoing impact on the planet.  For example, an incentive to purchase a more energy efficient appliance or vehicle will have lasting effects, even if the purchase behaviour itself is short-term.  In this case, we are unlikely to be concerned with the reason for the purchase, and whether any change in attitude occurred – just getting people to undertake that one green purchasing behaviour is the sole purpose.

The second way in which an incentive can play an important role in promoting sustainable behaviour is by acting as a disruptor of habitual behaviour.  Habits are held in place by stable, recurring conditions which make it easy for us to perform the behaviour without thinking or weighing up the pros and cons each time.  It has been demonstrated that a disruption to those conditions can be enough to cause us to re-examine our habitual behaviour, and potentially trial and adopt a new, more sustainable habit.  A change in the “pay-off” may be enough to serve as a  disruptor, as demonstrated in a study by Fujii & Kitamura , who found that providing a free one-month bus ticket to drivers led to a significant and sustained increase in bus use among those drivers.    In this case, the purpose of the incentive is to provide a stimulus to encourage a trial of a new behaviour, rather than as an ongoing reinforcer of that behaviour.

To summarise, financial incentives appear to have some value in triggering short term changes in behaviour.  Where the short term is enough to satisfy our aim, either by encouraging an immediate behaviour which has a long-term effect, or by activating a trial of a new behaviour, then financial incentives are a valuable inclusion in the behaviour change toolkit. 



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


Workshop Report – Cultivating Sustainability in New Zealand


Cultivating Sustainability workshops have just been completed in 6 locations throughout New Zealand, with great attendances and feedback.  Some of the comments from more than 100 attendees were


“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”


Thanks to all those who attended, participated and provided valuable feedback.  No firm dates are in place for future NZ workshops, but expect another visit some time in the first quarter of 2010. 


For more information about the Cultivating Sustainability workshop, see www.awake.com.au/cultivating.html


Interesting Article of the Month   Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox



Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox

By Alois Stutzer and Bruno S. Frey

Institute for Empirical Research in Economics


What is it about? 

In this study, economists take a look at the effects of commuting on subjective wellbeing, and ask the question – is commuting worth it?


What did they find?

The study reveals that long commuting time leads to significantly lower life satisfaction and subjective wellbeing.  Furthermore, when the data from people who had moved was examined, those who had their daily commute lengthened reported a decrease in wellbeing.  And even the partners of those who had a long commute reported lower wellbeing.  Additionally, the supposed benefits of long commuting, in terms of the lifestyle and housing opportunities, failed to compensate for the negative effects. 


What can we take from this?

The authors carefully dissect the possible reasons for this finding, as it clashes with the economic concept of “equilibrium”. This principle  contends that, if we do not see some benefit from a situation, we don’t maintain it.  However, they are unable to come up with any reason why we continue to choose long commuting times, even though they make us miserable. 


This finding is significant as the debate heats up in many modern cities about the relative merits of urban sprawl and higher density housing.  It is commonly espoused that people desire the “dream” of a big house with a backyard and a garage, and that this compensates for the longer and longer commuting time often necessary to achieve the dream.  However, this study suggests that the benefits are just not worth it to us – something which may provide valuable ammunition for those who seek to promote more compact cities. 


60 Seconds with….. Audua Castledine-Ruiz  from Green Pages


What first got you focused on sustainability?


When I worked for a community newspaper, I worked on a couple of green features and developed a real interest and passion for the area and wanted to be more a part of it.


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


I do it for my work now – which is really important to me.  I spend a big part of my life at work, so it’s the best way for me to be committed to green issues. 


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


Recycling – I’ve let it slip a bit since staying at my boyfriend’s house temporarily, which is not set up well for recycling.  I guess I should take the initiative and get his place better set up so he gets into the habit!


Exercise of the Month – Does the Motive Make a Difference?


In the feature article above, it is noted that our motivation for undertaking a pro-environment behaviour can influence the way we feel about it.  This months exercise invites you to see if this rings true for some of your own behaviours.


1.      List 3 pro-environment behaviours or decisions you chose, even though they had an extra cost in terms of money, time or effort.

2.      List 3 pro-environment behaviours or decisions you chose,  where the primary motivation was to save you money, time or effort.

3.      When you focus on each of the lists above, is there a difference in the way you feel about them?  Is there a difference in the degree to which you feel each list is indicative of your commitment to environmental sustainability?


According to the research discussed earlier, when we take action primarily because of the money, it has less effect on our self-perception in relation to the environment. 


However, when we feel we have made a positive decision for the environment as our primary motive, it is more likely to enhance our self-perception as environmentally concerned.  It is also more likely to lead us to take on other similar behaviours in order to maintain consistency with this self-perception.


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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