Carolyn McMaster | January 25, 2010
A recent piece in the New York Times reveals that living green is driving couples into therapy when one half of the couple is greener than the other. One partner might sneak unsustainably produced meals, set the thermostat too high or drive too much—chiding and guilt ensue. If it goes on long enough, the happy couple is no longer happy. Even families are tense as greener children clash with their not-so-green parents.
This seems a bit ridiculous (for a number of reasons), but it got me thinking about what does work when trying to convince someone (or some company) to change their unsustainable ways. This is the topic of an annual conference called Behavior, Energy and Climate Change; among its lessons:
- Information alone doesn’t work. People usually need some other motivation. Money saved is good; money earned is better.
- The payoff (or bad result from inaction) needs to be relatively immediate. The threat that your town may be under water when the glaciers melt or knowing that you’ll break even on that solar system in a mere 15 years doesn’t get many to change.
- Competition helps. If you know what your neighbor is doing, you want to do better.
- Tracking progress also motivates, especially if you can see how much money you’re saving.
It’s hard to change behavior, and harder still to communicate in ways that make a difference. When I consider these campaigns, the successful ones have this in common: they lead by example. A company credibly demonstrates that they are walking the talk, and others follow or do business with them. Or a campaign fosters friendly competition, so participants naturally follow one another.
Meanwhile, my former housemate will be pleased to know that I’ve drastically shortened my shower times….