Planet Ark News - Three Behaviour Change Tricks for Home or Work
Planet Ark News

Three Behaviour Change Tricks for Home or Work

Date: 26-Apr-17
Author: Ryan Collins

Not the best worded sign for behaviour change © Planet Ark

Not the best worded sign for behaviour change

Trying to change people’s behaviour can be a challenge whether at work, home or amongst friends. Understanding behaviour change psychology can play a critical role in whether your powers of persuasion will be successful. Take a look at three tips from our new Business Case for Less Waste guide.

1. Start Small and Easy

Research shows that encouraging people to commit to a small, easy change is likely to entice them to commit to a bigger change later. In the US homeowners were asked for permission to install a 6ft x 3ft sign saying ‘Drive Carefully’ in their yard. Unsurprisingly, only 17% of residents agreed. But when residents were asked to display a small ‘Drive Carefully’ sign in their window for two weeks, they were significantly more likely to agree to hosting the large sign.

Make it Work for You

Make it work for you by providing a recycling bin adjacent to the waste bin at home. Or organise desk trays for office paper reuse and recycling at work. The next step could be to encourage the use of reusable takeaway coffee mugs.

2. Use the Group

Humans are social creatures and our behaviour is strongly influenced by ‘the group’ (more so than we like to admit). A study carried out in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona used two different signs to test what would be most effective in stopping the theft of fossilised wood and bones in the canyons. These were the surprising results:

  • In the area with no signage (the control area) the theft rate was 2.92%.
  • In the second area a sign read "Please don't remove the petrified wood from the park, in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest,” and included a picture of a single person taking a piece of wood with a red circle and bar over their hand. The theft rate in this area was just 1.67%, meaning the sign was effective in reducing theft.  
  • In the third area the sign read "Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest," and also included a picture of several people taking pieces of wood. It resulted in a theft rate of 7.92%. The sign actually increased theft because it created the impression that everyone was doing it – it was a social norm.

Make it Work for You

Don’t reinforce the bad behaviour by highlighting it. Avoid turning it into a social norm by focusing on the good behaviour. Rather than having a sign that reads “Stop leaving the lights on at night”, highlight the good behaviour with “Thank you for turning the lights off before you leave.”

3. Hit ‘em Where it Hurts

Human brains feel the pain of current loss more than they feel the joy of gain. People don’t like to miss out. Research showed that home owners were up to 300% more likely to undertake energy efficiency upgrades if they were told they were losing 50 cents a day, rather than being told they would save 50 cents a day. 300%!

Make it Work for You

Imagine you are trying to persuade your boss or management team to adopt a new recycling program that will save your organisation $12,000 a year. Framing your pitch in terms of “We’ll miss out on $12,000” or “We’re paying $12,000 a year more than we need to” are much more likely to be successful than saying “We could save $12,000 a year.” 

More Behaviour Change Tips

Check out more tips in the Business Case for Less Waste guide.


Ryan                                              Collins

Author: Ryan Collins

Ryan is the Recycling Programs Manager at Planet Ark. After nearly a decade working in the banking and finance industry Ryan was drawn to a career in environmental conservation that saw him work in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Fiji. With a background in psychology and environmental management, Ryan’s role at Planet Ark since 2012 has been focused on developing engaging and positive environmental behaviour change programs to help everyone recycle and reduce waste.
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