Friday, August 31, 2012

The surprising science of motivation

The myth that appealling to people´s self-interest is the key to motivating sustainable behaviour is dispelled in this fascinating TED talk by Dan Pink. This gives a great explanation of research showing that extrinsic motivations (e.g. money) only improve performance for a certain type of mechanical tasks with clearly defined end goals. For tasks involving any level of cognitive skill or creativity, extrinsic goals will either not work or hinder performance; that means for most tasks we are faced with today, instrinsic motivations - such as autonomy, mastery and purpose - are far more motivating. Here Dan Pink talks about this research in relation to the mismatch between the 40 years of evidence from social science research and how businesses motivate performance, although the prinicples also apply to motivating changing behaviour to more sustainable lifestyles. "This is one of the most robust findings in social science, and also one of the most ignored." The good news is that linking sustainable actions and lifestyles to people´s existing values of autonomy, mastery and serving a purpose larger than ourselves is an immediately accessible way of helping to promote more successful behaviour change.

Dieticians in supermarkets help consumers make changes

Sometimes the right type of information at the right time and place can really assist consumers in changing their habits and lifestyles. This New York Times article reports on the work of dieticians in supermarkets across the USA, who assist shoppers who want to improve their health or learn how to shop and cook for specific conditions such as gluten intolerance. Dietitians give in-store consultations and store tours with customers, hold cooking classes, prepare take-home meals e.g. for dieters, take biometric screenings of customers and staff, give presentations in schools, businesses and civic events, work with merchandisers, help set up community gardens, assess products for nutritional value and provide in-store information to explain nutrional information on packaging. The service helps consumers to acheive their health goals and the supermarket chain consider the scheme invaluable to their business model. It is well known that providing generic information to the population about what they "should" do to live more healthily and sustainably is largely unsuccessful; this scheme is an example of how specific, timely, tailored, practical guidance from a trusted expert can enable real positive change (and the goals of eating healthily and maintaining healthy body weight are very relevant for sustainability too - see "Obesity as a sustainable consumption issue" for more info). This is also a great model for how businesses can help lead the shift towards healthy and sustainable lifestyles, as part of a successful business model.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The power of clear communication

In a Swedish retail shop ICA in Nyköping store manager Magnus Åberg came up with an idea to describe conventional bananas in a more precise manner. So now customers can choose between organic bananas, fair trade bananas and sprayed bananas. The sign has been there for three years, but have recently been posted on Facebook and distributed almost 4 000 times and 13 000 people liked the idea. According to Magnus Åberg the sign does influence ecological purchases.

Photo by Jens Alvin
Original article in Swedish can be found here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Creating a fresh perspective to enhance acceptability

This advert is a great example of presenting a ´controversial´ issue positively without referring to the usual pros, cons and myths. Thought-provoking?

Friday, June 15, 2012

The eight biggest myths about sustainability in business

Myths about sustainability in the businesses world are also interesting although a little different from those that hamper policymakers.  There is some overlap - for example, the belief that ít´s too difficult, or that someone else should be taking the lead.

Sustainable wellbeing and happiness: dispelling myth 9

The Kingdom of Bhutan are working with the UN to set up an expert task force on "Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm". Their website has really useful reading lists and two-page summaries of solutions for promoting sustainability and wellbeing. This important work is also dispelling the myth that people want to earn more money and increase consumption levels to become happier. Here is a facinating 7 minute video giving some background to how Bhutan got started on the path to promoting sustainable happiness.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Sharing Economy: myth 8 dispelled

Many decision makers and consumers are convinced that 1) people in general have a deeply rooted desire to buy and own all kinds of products and services and 2) that sharing access to products or collaboratively using them is not attractive. Watch the video about a new collaborative economy emerging in the USA, where "access trumps ownership", where people make use of idling capacity of many products they have in their possession by improving the utility rate of these products and by learning how to use less and do more. Learn about TaskRabbit; Getaround; AirBnB; Vayable; and many more.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Half of Germany was running on Solar Power

Germany´s solar subsidies not only create record-breaking clean energy generation, they also dispel the myth that people are only motivated by self-interest (e.g. lower energy prices): Germans pay a bit extra for subsiding the solar industry (and this article suggests American citizens would be willing to do the same). It also shows that policies considered ´too controversial´ in some places are already up and running in others.  Good news!

Life lessons from an ad man: Rory Sutherland

This is a hilarious talk with inspiring ideas about how to create intangible wealth instead of consuming ever-more material resources, as well as some memorable examples of how to change behaviour - enjoy!

Friday, June 8, 2012

From behaviour to environmental policy and back

On May 4 2012, DG ENV/DG SANCO organized a workshop “From Behaviour to Environmental Policy, and Vice Versa” with the goal to explore the available scientific evidence about behaviour and the most recent behaviour-driven policy applications with a special focus on the environment. Oksana Mont, representing the European Topic Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production at the European Environmental Agency and the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University, Sweden, contributed to the workshop with presentation. Oksana argued that information provision as the main tool of the current SCP policy is insufficient to affect consumer behaviour. The change has to be systemic lead by pro-active policy making and supported by infrastructure that enables sustainable lifestyles, by business models furthering sustainable consumption patterns and levels and by changes in peoples’ values. In instigating the necessary change, framing of messages of SCP policies is vital: in addition to emphasising the personal benefits of consuming more sustainably, policymakers need to strengthen the appeal of collective, pro-environmental and pro-social goals thereby paving the way for and embedding sustainable societal values. New SCP policies will be more efficient and effective in changing values when introduced within the windows of opportunity offered by the evolving focus of the public debate. Oksana further underlined the importance of dispelling the persistent myths that have penetrated the mainstream policy and discourse on sustainable consumption. She highlighted deliberative democracy, choice architecture and social marketing as essential, but underutilised mechanisms for advancing sustainability. In conclusion, Oksana emphasised the need for strategic roadmaps to operationalise emergent visions of sustainable societies.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


The intention with this blog is to create discussion about consumer behaviour and myths that have penetrated modern policy making, collect supporting and opposing evidence and disseminate it , thereby contributing to more effective and efficient policy making for sustainable consumption.