New thinking needed on green behaviour change


Image courtesy of Philip Wallis.

Many environmental behaviour change campaigns target small, easy actions, such as taking shorter showers, believing this will motivate other green behaviours. But according to a leading expert, this logic may be flawed. 

At a series of seminars in Melbourne this month, Professor John Thøgersen of Aarhus University in Denmark will discuss whether current evidence supports this approach, and point out how some popular practices in environmental behaviour change campaigning might need to be reconsidered. 

The seminars are hosted by BehaviourWorks Australia, a joint venture between the Monash Sustainability Institute, EPA Victoria, The Shannon Company and Sustainability Victoria that brings together interdisciplinary researchers with leading practitioners who share an interest in behaviour change research and environmental sustainability.

Professor Thøgersen said environmental behaviour change campaigns were often based on a premise known as positive spillover effects. 

"In reality, there is limited evidence to suggest that adopting one small, painless environmental behaviour will spillover into other areas of life and encourage further, more ambitious sustainable behaviours," Professor Thøgersen said.

"In fact, some evidence suggests that people who adopt one green behaviour may feel like they've done enough, environmentally, and not undertake any more important environmental actions. 

"We won't be able to effectively combat the grave environmental challenges we're facing if individuals take only small steps. It's imperative that we understand what drives sustainable behaviour and use this knowledge to build more effective campaigns, including campaigns that optimise the chance of achieving positive spillover effects," Professor Thøgersen said. 

Director of BehaviourWorks Australia, Dr Liam Smith, said Professor Thøgersen's visit was a coup for Australian practitioners and researchers working in environmental sustainability and behaviour change.

“John's a leader in the pro-environmental behaviour field and his work aligns perfectly with the research objectives of BehaviourWorks Australia. I'm really pleased he is working with us and I look forward to translating some of his research to the Australian context," Dr Smith said.

"I encourage anyone who is interested in encouraging environmental behaviour and sustainable action to attend one of the seminars."

The free public seminar, 'When one pro-environmental behaviour leads to another ... or not?' will be held at 5.30pm, 23 April, at the State Library of Victoria.

A second research-oriented seminar, 'Spillover of pro-environmental behaviour' will be held at the Monash University Clayton campus on 24 April 2012.