Ways to shift consumers towards sustainable behavior
Humans are social animals and will follow the actions of others, especially on ethical issues. When people learn they are using more energy than their neighbours, they decrease their energy usage. But what if the sustainable behavior has yet to be established? For example, how does one convince people to install solar panels if no one in their neighbourhood is doing it? A "brand ambassador" can be invaluable. Solar advocates who had installed solar panels in their own homes were able to recruit 63 per cent more residents to purchase and install solar panels.
For ethical behaviors, learning about the behaviors of others can be motivating. In one example, when business students on a college campus heard that computer science students were better at composting and recycling, they more than doubled their efforts.
To build a new sustainable habit, one must first break bad habits. This is easiest when someone is experiencing big life changes, such as moving, getting married or starting a new job. In one study, people who had recently moved cut their car usage almost in half.
To build new habits, it can be helpful to make the sustainable action easy to do, provide timely prompts, offer incentives to help get the new behavior started.
Sustainability can appear more attractive when the personal benefits such as health or product quality are highlighted. Emphasizing self-efficacy also works. When people know their actions matter, they make greener choices.
Self-consistency is also important. People like their words and actions to be consistent. Often one environmental commitment can snowball into other actions and changes over time. For example, someone who insulates their house to improve energy efficiency may be more likely to unplug electric devices when they leave for a vacation.
Likewise, consumers expect companies to be consistent. In one study, when a hotel made visible environmental efforts (such as offering compostable toiletries) and asked guests to save energy, guests reduced their energy usage by 12 per cent. In the absence of visible efforts, the appeal appeared hypocritical and energy use increased.