What Can You Do About Climate Change? Make It Personal (With Rare)

According to Rare’s Center for Behavior and the Environment: “Two-thirds of Americans think that citizens should do more to address global warming. And yet, most of us don’t really know what to do. We recycle, carry our grocery bags. But turns out that’s not enough.

Rare recently conducted research to identify the individual behaviors people can adopt with the greatest potential for climate impact. And it turns out, there are 7 things that many Americans might find surprisingly within reach. If each of these changes were adopted by even 10% of Americans, it would reduce the gap to America’s emissions targets by over 75%.

While we still need larger changes from corporations and governments, it’s pretty empowering to know we do not have to wait. We can each find at least one way to start making positive changes now. When it comes to our environment, we are all in this together.”

Food for thought from Rare: Seven behaviors with the largest climate impact

Rare Conversations, with Robert Frank and Madhuri Karak: Can Peer Pressure Solve Climate Change (43 mins of sensible, inspiring exchange)

Robert Frank, in the New York Times: Behavioral Contagion Could Spread the Benefits of a Carbon Tax

Join the Next Rare Conversation!

In June, Rare welcomed Sarah Stein Greenberg, Executive Director of Stanford’s d.School, for its first Rare Conversation on innovating for sustainability (43 mins).

In August, they will speak with Robert Frank, Cornell University professor and author of the book, Under the Influence, about the power social forces have for motivating climate-friendly behavior. Dr. Frank will discuss Can Peer Pressure Solve Climate Change?

Thursday August 13, 2020 | 2:00 PM EST
Register here

For FMN members: both talks are on the Continuing Education calendar.

Upcoming Webinar: Social Marketing as a Behavior-Centered Design Tool

On June 10, Dulce Espelosin, Senior Trainer at Rare’s Center for Behavior and the Environment, will lead two webinars hosted by the International Social Marketing Association. Tune in as she shares the unique opportunities and challenges of supporting community-led, behavior change campaigns.

Working in remote places presents many challenges when it comes to nature conservation, beginning with communicating with its inhabitants. The most effective tool has been behavior change design embedded within a social marketing strategy. In this webinar, Ms. Espelosin will share the strategies she used with a community in Mozambique to make a sustainable change.

Fairfax County hosts a diverse community of people who will respond differently to the messages they hear. Tune in to discover how you might change your approach and increase the likelihood that you will succeed.

Webinar 1: 12:00pm-1:00pm Register

Webinar 2: 8:00pm-9:00pm Register

For FMN members: This learning opportunity is on the CE calendar.

Project Drawdown’s 100 solutions to reverse global warming

What if we took out more greenhouse gases than we put into the atmosphere? This hypothetical scenario, known as drawdown, is our only hope of averting climate disaster, says strategist Chad Frischmann of Project Drawdown.

In a compelling TED Talk about climate change, he shares solutions that exist today: conventional tactics like the use of renewable energy and better land management as well as some lesser-known approaches, like changes to food production, better family planning, and the education of girls.

Listen for ideas about how we can reverse global warming and create a world where regeneration, not destruction, is the rule. His talk was presented at “We the Future,” a special event in partnership with the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation.

For the full list of solutions, click here.

For material on managing refrigerants, click here.

For Katherine Wilkinson’s TED Talk on empowering women and girls an their role in addressing climate change, click here.

Register for Behavior-Centered Design for the Environment, December 2-3, 2020

Marilyn Kupetz

During a two-day workshop at Rare’s Center for Behavior & Environment in October 2019, one of the participants, a professor of restorative ecology, described an initiative that he’s launching at Longwood University: getting students, faculty, and staff to reduce the number of single-use plastics that they deposit into the waste stream in Farmville, Virginia. 

He was credible and inspiring, and when I went home that day, I examined every bit of plastic that I inject, virtuously, into my recycling bin: sushi trays, shampoo containers, pill bottles, salad boxes, plastic utensils, yogurt packaging, dog treat wrappers, water bottles—I could go on for a while, but I’m sure you get it. I was surprised at the variety and appalled by the numbers.

I was also surprised to learn that manufacturers are not buying plastic right now because it costs more to wash and prepare recycled waste than to make new plastic. So the fact that we recycle doesn’t actually reduce the effects of the plastic we toss. It still ends up in landfills or the ocean. The path forward seems to require some combination of avoiding plastic all together—very hard; repurposing as much of what we do have to buy as possible; and thinking creatively about options that haven’t occurred to us yet, but could if we summon the collective will.

Because Rare teaches Behavior-Centered Design for the Environment twice a year and leads projects that practice it—all over the world, all the time—our facilitators asked us to workshop in real time how we ourselves might encourage just one organization to reduce the number of plastic products they consume and throw away during lunch each day. 

Collectively, our ideas touched all of the levers of behavior-centered design:

  • We suggested a material incentive: giving staff branded, reusable containers for lunch or takeout. Because they would cost the organization very little, and could be made of recycled plastic, the incentive might be valuable on several levels.
  • We’d engage in positive storytelling, by, for example, posting signs reminding staff that although waste adds up, change is in their hands, literally.
  • We’d leverage social influence, perhaps with a trash art installation inside the front door to remind ourselves of what waste really looks like, without any personal public shaming.
  • We’d push information via fun infographic reminders to forego plastic and adopt reusable utensils and containers.
  • We’d enable choice architecture by hosting a cache of reusable containers right near the cafeteria so that staff could borrow, wash, and return them if they forgot their own.

Doable, right? A question of will, not where-with-all. 

I’m working out how to use what I learned—from the gifted teachers and the fabulous participants—in my own life and activities. I encourage those of you who want your efforts to preserve the natural world to have meaningful outcomes to participate in the next workshop, to be held online, December 2-3, 2020.

Free Resources

Behavior Change for Nature: A Behavioral Science Toolkit for Practitioners is a useful, short booklet for getting started, and perfect for those of you who learn best from the printed word.

Behavior Beat is Rare’s monthly newsletter full of stories and links to resources. Great resource for news and easily digestible stories of what works.

Lots of webinars and inspiring stories on the site itself.

And, of course, come talk with me, too, any time.

If you are a Fairfax Master Naturalist, the workshop easily fulfills your education requirement for the year.

Want people to adopt climate-friendly behaviors? Understand what motivates them.

Reposted from the Rare blog

Brett Jenks

In her column this week, Axios’ Amy Harder offers “confessions of an energy reporter,” and admits that even she — someone fluent in facts about climate change — isn’t likely to adopt climate-friendly behaviors unless she is incentivized economically to do so.

Harder cited research Rare conducted that identified seven behaviors which, if adopted by 10 percent of Americans, could help us meet our greenhouse gas reduction obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement. These behaviors, drawn from the great work done by Project Drawdown, are things individual people and households can do — things like adopting a plant-rich diet, purchasing an electric vehicle, installing rooftop solar, and purchasing carbon offsets.

But Harder is skeptical:

Voluntary action can be helpful and inspiring. But ultimately most experts agree systemic change on a global scale — led by governments implementing economic policies — is necessary to adequately address climate change. So, I’m not losing sleep over my flying and eating habits — and I’ll only make big changes if the price tags get a lot bigger.

I loved Harder’s column for a couple of reasons. And not just because she referenced Rare, the conservation nonprofit I run.

First, she crystallizes what has been missing from efforts to drive individuals to adopt more sustainable behaviors — our understanding of human behavior and motivation.

Take the example Harder’s cites — a study that says economic incentives are more effective than moral persuasion at getting people to reduce their energy consumption. If you dig into that study, you’ll see it violates the cardinal rule of behavior change: failing to understand what motivates the target actor. The economists drafting this study attempting to “morally persuade” people with the following text message:

“Substantial energy conservation will be required for the society in ‘critical peak-demand hours’ on summer and winter peak-demand days, in which electricity supply will be very limited relative to demand.”

This might convince a robot, but it is far from compelling for the rest of us.

I would instead look at energy consumption studies that test messages that are morally compelling for the target actors.

Take, for example, this study which compares how much energy people conserve when they are told about the money they could save versus their impact on childhood asthma and cancer. Now, if people only respond to financial incentives, then we would expect to see energy reduction in the first case and no effect in the second. But what the study found is that people consume far less when they consider the health impact of their behavior on themselves and others. By focusing on, and taking seriously people’s motivations, we can achieve greater changes in behavior than simply focusing on economic consequences.

Second, her reflections include motivations outside of the moral versus economic dichotomy. As Harder points out, her own health, and her family traditions — not just economics — influence her decisions.

When I’m home on my family’s cattle ranch in Washington state, I eat beef almost daily. Burgers. Steak. Prime rib. Pot roast. Hot dogs. Meatloaf. Cube steak. You get the point.

So, what if those around Harder changed their behavior? Would she still wait for an economic incentive? Social science suggests not. After all, we are social animals who move with the herd. We all know what happens to the wildebeest who is left behind.

All this goes to show how our understanding of people’s motivations and human decision-making is the game-changer for driving personal action on climate change.

For decades, the environmentalist’s toolkit for promoting pro-environment behaviors has generally depended on passing laws and regulations, running awareness campaigns, or offering economic incentives or disincentives

But what if we could design interventions that are more closely aligned with how people actually make decisions and understand what truly motivates them? At Rare, we’re working to weave three strategies that take into account human behavior and motivation into the climate playbook:

  • Appeal to people’s emotions. People are predictably irrational. Using emotions, especially positive ones like pride can effectively drive people to adopt sustainable behaviors. We see that on display in spades in the study I referred to earlier. By understanding that people find health, particularly the health of children, to be emotionally compelling meant that appealing to those concerns was far more effective at reducing energy consumption than appealing to financial benefits.
  • Shift social norms. People are social animals. We move with the herd. Recent research into “dynamic norms” suggests that people are more likely to adopt climate-friendly behaviors if they sense that others are starting to adopt them — that norms are shifting. Take reducing water or energy consumption as an example. Numerousstudieshave found that when people are shown that they are consuming more than their neighbors, they reduce their own consumption.
  • Redesign the context around choices. Changing the context and timing around a decision can influence the choice a consumer makes. This is called “choice architecture.” Take switching to a green energy provider. A study in Germany found that setting the green energy option, which was notably more costly, as the default option increased adoption by almost tenfold. This default didn’t change anything financially but took into account that people’s choice is influenced by how that choice is presented.

We are in a golden age of understanding human behavior and decision-making. And the application of behavioral economics, psychology, and other social sciences is gaining steam. Just look at Richard Thaler recently winning the Nobel Prize for his work in behavioral economics. Or the proliferation of government offices designing interventions based on behavioral science, or “nudge” units, in governments around the world.

Don’t get me wrong. We do need systemic change at the international and national level. But let’s face it, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. And in the meantime, we’re not powerless. We’re not limited to voting every couple of years. We know individual behavior can have an impact. And we know that understanding human behavior and motivations, and designing behavior-centered solutions, is a way to get climate-friendly behaviors adopted.

Human behavior helped get us into this climate mess. Hopefully, our understanding of it will help get us out of it.

Behavior-centered design for the environment training

Rare Center for Behavior and the Environment
1310 N. Courthouse Road, Suite 110, Arlington, VA, 22201
Phone: 703.522.5070

October 16 & 17, 2019
9:00 am–5:00 pm

Register now

Want the key to unlocking greater impact from your environmental programs?

Environmental and conservation organizations have deep expertise in the natural sciences. But if human behavior is the biggest threat to the environment, we need a better understanding of what motivates people. Join Rare for an interactive behavior-centered design training, and gain tools and techniques for moving people toward more sustainable behaviors.

What is Behavior-Centered Design (BCD)?

A process that blends insights from the behavioral sciences and approaches from design thinking to build breakthrough solutions to environmental challenges.

Who is this training for?

• Conservation and environmental practitioners

• Program designers and policy staff

• Sustainability professionals

Why would a BCD training help you?

• Behavior is at the root of both conservation problems and solutions

• Strategies that incorporate human behavior can achieve larger and lasting impact

• BCD holds the potential for unlocking fundraising opportunities

• It provides a step-by-step process for identifying target behaviors and developing strategies       to achieve them

What will I leave the training with?

• Applicable skills and easy-to-use tools

• Hands-on experience with a behavior-centered design process

• A tutorial on Rare’s behavior change toolkit

• A  membership in a learning network of practitioners