Opinion: Achieving Sustainability Goals Through Behaviour Change

By Rosa Strube, CSCP

“In a recently-published report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientists leave no doubt: To combat climate change, we also need to tackle the demand side. “Demand-side measures and new ways of end-use service provision can reduce global greenhouse gas emission in end-use sectors such as buildings, land use, transport, and food by 40–70% by 2050 compared to baseline scenarios.”, states the report. On a European level, the EU Green Deal also calls for changes on the consumer side on many key topics, from food and electronics through to energy and transport. Indeed, many of the EU Green Deal goals can only be achieved with the support of behavioural science. Behaviour change may not be a standalone solution, but when change processes require actions from people, it is necessary to understand and guide their behaviour. For example, supporting consumers to switch to plant-based diets, reducing food waste on the household level or achieving the goals around circularity, energy use, mobility, and waste separation is hardly possible without behaviour change.

“In our work over the years, we have noticed that the complexity of behaviour change is often overlooked when designing new solutions. In many cases it is taken for granted that people do certain things or make certain choices instead of trying to understand why and how they do so and what is needed to make them change their behaviours. Moreover, behaviour change is rarely a process strictly confined to single actors, in this case consumers. Individual capabilities (both physical and in terms of knowledge) required for a new behaviour as well as the motivation to change are essential, but external factors such as the physical environments and the social frameworks within actors operate play a major part.

“At the CSCP, we see behaviour change as part of the solution and engage with all relevant actors to ensure that it becomes an integral part of policy frameworks, business offers, and all other endeavours toward greater sustainability.”

“In our successful capacity building programme, Academy of Change we designed a learning journey for decision makers in different fields to support designing behaviour change interventions. As part of the learning journey, we established a user-friendly process which can be applied in different contexts and for different behaviours. The examples below showcase different aspects of the process of designing and implementing successful behaviour change interventions: understanding consumers, using the right behaviour change tools to introduce the change, successful implementation, and evaluation.

“In our Like a Pro project, we are supporting European citizens to switch to alternative proteins. Provided that this is still a new field, we have started off working to better understand consumers’ needs and wishes, but also barriers that could prevent them from trying new alternative protein products. In the project, we also analyse how different food environments like supermarkets, canteens, or restaurants might currently and could in the future influence food choices.

“With a good understanding of the target behaviour and target group, a number of behaviour change tools can be used to support citizens to change their behaviour and scale up certain ones. In our Chorizo project, we are testing how social norms, one of the most powerful tools to changing behaviours, can be used to reduce food waste in households, universities, and hotels.

“In our PSLifestyle project, we have developed a digital tool which includes a carbon footprint calculator as well as the function to design individual action plans to reduce it. The tool uses gamification and feedback provision to make it easier for people to change their lifestyles and sustain such changes over time.

“In order to know the actual impact of behaviour change measures and to be able to improve them over time, they also need to be evaluated. As part of the awareness raising campaign #Wirdrehenrunter launched by WWF Germany and the consumer goods manufacturer Procter & Gamble (P&G) Germany, we are developing an evaluation design and bring together the results after the first year of the campaign.

“Are you working on a project where behaviour change could support you to achieve greater impact? Reach out to us and let’s start new collaborations together!”

Rosa is Head of the Sustainable Lifestyles (SL) Team at The Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP).

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