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The Psychology of Sustainable Behaviors

The Psychology of Sustainable Behaviors

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Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
September
2009
The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior
 Tips for empowering people to take environmentally positive action
 
 
Author
Christie Manning, Ph.D.
Acknowledgment
Many thanks to Elise Amel and Su Beran for their invaluable supportand contributions to this document.
Editing and Graphics
Theresa GaffeyScott Andre
September 2009
Document Number: p-ee1-01
520 Lafayette Rd N | St. Paul, MN 55155-4194 | 651-296-6300 or toll free 800-657-3864www.pca.state.mn.us 
 
The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior 1
Table of Contents
Introduction..........................................................................................................................................2The psychology of sustainable behavior..........................................................................................3
Why we are not always rational decision makers................................................................................3Other considerations for a good sustainability campaign .................................................................4Individual sustainability paves the way for broader social change..................................................5 Every tip makes a difference....................................................................................................................6 
Tips from psychology..........................................................................................................................7
1. Make sustainable behavior the social default...................................................................................7 
Communicate normative information ....................................................................................................................7Encourage positive social cues for sustainability..................................................................................................8Provide opportunities for people to demonstrate sustainability............................................................................9Create and nurture networks that spread sustainable examples...................................................................... 10Broaden the sustainability norm beyond the “eco-elite”..................................................................................... 10Break down bystander confusion........................................................................................................................ 11
2. Emphasize personal relevance..........................................................................................................12 
It’s not about the environment!............................................................................................................................ 12Beware of labels................................................................................................................................................... 12Understand your audience’s worldview .............................................................................................................. 13Find a new frame ................................................................................................................................................. 14Focus on local issues, local effects..................................................................................................................... 15
3. Make hidden information visible.......................................................................................................16 
Overcome perceptual barriers............................................................................................................................. 16Build feedback loops with information or social feedback................................................................................ 17Informational feedback......................................................................................................................................... 18Social feedback.................................................................................................................................................... 19
4. Foster mindfulness..............................................................................................................................19
Engage thinking with something surprising........................................................................................................ 20Encourage alignment with personal values........................................................................................................ 20Focus on improvement, not perfection................................................................................................................ 20
5. Create opportunities for competence, skills, and knowledge .....................................................21
Give task-specific information ............................................................................................................................. 21Provide hands-on opportunities to try new behaviors........................................................................................ 22Communicate effective actions ........................................................................................................................... 22
6. Make change a byproduct of other events......................................................................................23
Make the sustainable choice opt-out rather than opt-in..................................................................................... 23Find the moments of flux ..................................................................................................................................... 24
7. Balance urgency with realistic hope ................................................................................................25 
Have a positive vision that emphasizes solutions.............................................................................................. 25Show people they’re not alone............................................................................................................................ 26Redefine the scale ............................................................................................................................................... 26Set challenging but attainable goals ................................................................................................................... 27
References..........................................................................................................................................28

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