Making Behaviour Change Stick

Zoe Hanks

“Human behaviour flows from three main sources; desire, emotion and knowledge.”

Plato, Greek Philosopher, 340 BC

As the human race grows and develops, so too does the rapid development of technology created to help us navigate through our everyday lives. This is particularly pertinent with energy consumption, where there is a whole plethora of products on the market to help us on our drive to reduce energy output and spend.

However, it’s important to remember no matter how much we invest in the latest fads and gadgets, there is one vital element that ultimately holds the key to success – people and the way they behave.

Clearly, there is a place for technology, and without it we would find it difficult to move forward at such a rapid pace. Sometimes, technology allows us to dodge the tricky area of behaviour change (think in terms of automatic light sensors that negate the need for someone to physically switch the lights off), but generally, when technology is used in conjunction with additional changes in behaviour, that’s where the serious step-changes in efficiencies can happen.

We work with several clients on their behaviour change communications. Here is a whistle-stop tour of our learnings…

Start at the end

Seems like an odd place to start, but if you don’t know where you want to be, how will you know you have got there? Think about what you want to achieve, what behaviours need to change in order for you to get there, and who you need to influence along the way.

Focus on behaviour, not attitude

The holy grail of sustainability would be to change everyone’s attitude in order for them all to be completely on-board with our journey to a greener environment. This isn’t impossible, but is certainly challenging and would take significantly longer than your usual behaviour change programmes. In the absence of a complete overhaul in attitudes (the way people think about sustainability), we recommend taking the more tried and tested route of changing their behaviours around sustainability (getting people to recycle more, switch off lights etc). This can be done by encouraging them to ‘do the right thing’, regardless of whether they are 100% convinced of why it should be done. Hopefully, over time, they will start to appreciate the benefits of such and, in turn, it will become natural for them to ‘do things right’.

Think of attitudes to recycling domestic waste when the kerbside recycling scheme was first introduced some years ago. Very few people were convinced of the benefits from day one, and in fact just saw it as a huge drain on their time segregating their rubbish. Fast forward a few years and now it has not only become second nature to dispose of your rubbish properly, but people are also more aware of the benefits of doing so.

Talk in their language

If you are talking to the Finance Director about the benefits of undertaking a sustainability programme it’s clear that they will have one thing in mind: “Show me the money!”.

But if you are asking your staff members in the canteen to use less water – do they really care about how that will affect your bottom line? Well, hopefully yes, but in all likelihood, unless they are shareholders in your company or well versed in reading balance sheets, it’s unlikely that they will know what effect reducing expenditure will have on your cost per sale or profit before tax. In this case – think about what tools and techniques you can use that will appeal to them. Talk in terms of how many sandwiches per year such a saving will mean, how many coffees are effectively being poured down the sink each year due to excessive water consumption?

There are lots of tools and techniques that can be used to help with your behaviour change communications. Talk to us about how we can help define yours.

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