The new year has arrived with a renewed hope for the environment as the private and public sectors direct their attention to the growing shift from “business as usual” to renewable energy technologies. Sustainability initiatives and climate change garnered mainstream attention following last year’s increase in natural disasters. It also positioned 2012 as the most extreme weather year on record for the lower 48 states, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
In the months following Sandy, the second costliest hurricane following Katrina with an estimated $62 billion in damage, many neighborhoods are still reeling in the after affects. Natural disasters have provided the needed catalyst for sustainability initiatives as great turmoil resulted in a newly discovered interest in the growing climate problem. The extreme weather events in 2012 summarize what scientists are predicting to be the “new normal” as the climate continues to warm. As city officials in New York and New Jersey focus on rebuilding, the Clean Tech Revolution is gaining relevance. An example of one opportunity that is focused on smart growth is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Cleaner Greener Communities Program. Launched in 2011, the program has established $100 million in competitive grants and plans to use innovative technologies to improve its economic, energy and environmental development while building sustainable communities.
With the advancements in clean technology, comes a need for greater social responsibility and increased stakeholder engagement. In the past months, we at Tradepal have engaged with various corporations, agencies and institutions to explore best practices to bridge the sustainability gap between consumers and businesses. The greatest disconnect we have noticed following the influx of social media and technological advancement, is how to accelerate consumer behavior change. According to psychologists Wendy Wood and David Neal, consumers often “act like creatures of habit, automatically repeating past behavior with little regard to current goals and valued outcomes.” When considering the adoption of new behaviors, it seems to come down to the intent and behavior of the individual.
In an effort to ignite behavior change, former President Bill Clinton appealed to advertising agencies last June at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France. He asked advertisers to leverage the power they have to transcend their messaging and assist in shaping the future of our planet. In the digital age, sustainability is no longer a tree hugger concept. Organizations including start-ups, large corporations and state and local governments are embracing renewable energy, green transportation, electric motors, recycling and reuse initiatives as a means to create efficiencies while reducing our environmental footprint.
As we embark on 2013, the following concepts offer suggestions for transitioning consumers toward positive behavior change:
Video: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Author: Tamar Burton
Following years of consumerism, technology has offered new interpretations of ownership. Competitive services touting the benefits of “sharing” and “access over ownership” have gained ground as viable alternatives. Consumers have revisited past generations’ routines of sharing, swapping, lending, and bartering. Businesses are allowing access to both tangible items and less tangible assets of space and skills. Sharing services are progressively gaining traction in densely populated areas. However, the question remains as to whether they can cross to the mainstream and gain massive adoption?
Enacting consumer behavior change is a challenging endeavor. In a recent review of consumer behavior change, psychologists Wendy Wood and David Neal suggest that consumers often “act like creatures of habit, automatically repeating past behavior with little regard to current goals and valued outcomes.”
In contrast to ownership, the sharing economy while founded on the concepts of community and sharing, attempts to find value through financial savings for consumers. Like the sharing economy, sustainability initiatives are focused on advancing social equity. Both sustainability and the sharing economy minimize waste, optimize the allocation of resources and reduce carbon emissions with communities. When considering their adoption, however, it seems to come down to the intent and behavior of the individual.
Recent findings suggest that pro-environmental campaigns emphasizing financial savings (self-interested) over protecting the environment (self-transcending) have generally been ineffective. Although advocates promoted financial benefits in order to accelerate adoption of eco-friendly behaviors (i.e., saving energy results in lower bills), researchers Thogersen and Crompton found that financial incentives may make people less likely to carry out environmental actions in general. Self-interested values, such as economic welfare, wealth and power were found to be in conflict with the self-transcending values of protecting the environment.
Another study, conducted by researchers Fowler and Christakis, reveals that acts of kindness and generosity travel in social networks up to three degrees of separation. They believe that “cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks” and that “there is a deep and fundamental connection between social networks and goodness.” They added that “groups with altruists in them will be more likely to survive than selfish groups.”
The resounding message of the sharing economy is that it fosters relationships and builds communities. So far, it has focused primarily on the self-interested values of saving money and making money from the idle resources in order to appeal to consumers. The sharing economy should incorporate self-transcending values such as sustainability and goodness to its core message in order to achieve behavior change and cross to the mainstream.