Sustainable Behavior

The Editorial Staff of “Resource Recycling” magazine outlined a report published in Nature Climate Change in August of this year. The gist of this report was simply that people’s behavior with regard to green activities is more complicated than many of us think.

This type of research goes to the very heart of long – term sustainability. Essentially, for all that we do to get people to engage in sustainable behavior, we are not as successful as we need to be because we have oversimplified a complicated behavior.

RecyclingIn the study, the researchers noted that when people were presented with a choice of activities beneficial to the environment, and told that what they would be doing was good for them in a self centered way, they were less likely to engage in sustainable behavior than if they were also reminded that their activity would help the environment. In other words, reminding people of the greater good helped change behavior.

I have to say that I was surprised at the findings. I have been working on sustainable behavior change for many years. It has always been my opinion that altruism does not work and that people are inherently self – centered. Accordingly, I have always focused on the dollar savings and made the environmental benefits of the behavior changes ancillary to those savings.

This study offers some evidence that I need to rethink this message. I find it hopeful that people are more responsive when they are thinking about the big picture.

We need more research to support these findings, but those of us who engage in training people should change our methods just a bit. Well, at least the cynics like me need to do that.

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