Three behavior change tips for beginners

Zoe Hanks of Grassroots Ideas Ltd provides a whistle-stop tour of implementing a behavior change program.

“Human behavior flows from three main sources; desire, emotion and knowledge.” - Plato, Greek Philosopher, 340 BC

Step number one in a behavior change program: Start at the end.

As the human race grows and develops, so too does the rapid development of technology created to help us navigate through our everyday lives.

In turn, as the field of technology grows and develops, so too does the suite of products available to assist 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 behavior 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 behavior, that’s where the serious step-changes in efficiencies can happen.

As part of the NHS Sustainability Day series, there is a session on behavior change and the resource efficiencies this can bring. To give you a taster, here is a whistle-stop tour of implementing a behavior change program.

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 behaviors need to change in order for you to get there, and who you need to influence along the way.

Focus on behavior, 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 behavior change programs. 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 behaviors 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 such. Our session will take attendees through a range of techniques than can be used when changing peoples behavior.

Talk in their language

If you are talking to the finance director about the benefits of undertaking a sustainability program 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, its 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 been poured down the sink each year due to excessive water consumption?

During the NHS Sustainability Day session we will be going through a whole range of tools that can be used to gain the attention of your stakeholders, whoever they may be. Come and see for yourself. If you’d like to know more about engaging your people and changing their behaviors, register for a forthcoming NHS sustainability Day near you.

Grassroots Ideas are specialists in sustainability and CSR communications and strong advocates of a more socially responsible way of thinking. They work with clients of all sizes to deliver communications, strategy and behavior change programs.