Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey
According to this report, consumer behaviour is key to the impact that society has on the environment as consumer choices of products and services have direct and indirect impacts on the environment, as well as on personal (and collective) well-being. This report explores some of the reasons why people make the choices that they do. It reviews
the literature on consumer behaviour and behavioural change and discusses the evidence base for different models of change. It also highlights the dilemmas and
opportunities that policy-makers face in addressing unsustainable consumption patterns and encouraging more sustainable lifestyles.
The paper outlines how information campaigns have been widely used for achieving public interest goals. But they are known to be less effective than other forms of learning. Research suggests that learning by trial and error, observing how others behave and modelling our behaviour on what we see around us provide more effective and more promising avenues for changing behaviours than information and awareness campaigns. The paper proposes that this type of 'persuasion' can be part of a strategy. Persuasion is most effective when there us an understanding the audience being addressed; emotional and imaginative appeal is used; there is a sense of immediacy and directness; commitments/loyalty schemes are in place; and there is a use of ‘retrieval cues’ to catalyse the new behaviour.
The paper argues that changing behaviours - and, in particular, motivating more sustainable behaviours - is difficult. Individual behaviours are deeply embedded in social and institutional contexts. The paper proposes that there is a need for a creative, concerted strategy that makes it easy to behave more
sustainably: ensuring that incentive structures and institutional rules favour sustainable behaviour, enabling access to pro-environmental choice, engaging people in initiatives to help themselves, and exemplifying the desired changes within Government’s own policies and practices.
Compass Network website, April 30 2006.