Can people’s behaviour change for better?

News: Indian PM gave the idea of LIFE (Lifestyle for Environment) at COP26 climate summit at Glasgow.

But, in order to create a mass movement of an environmentally conscious lifestyle we need to bring changes in people’s beliefs, habits and behaviours.

Must Read: Glasgow Climate Pact (GCP) – Explained, pointwise
How can we address the complex issue of behavioural change?

– Behaviour change starts with the individuals. Making small changes in individual habits, by spreading awareness and modifying existing beliefs and perceptions, can significantly impact the environment.

– Making people think: Often, there is a disconnect between people’s values and actions. Being creatures of habit, people engage in activities either unconsciously or subconsciously. In such cases, mere issuing of rules, directives and memos may not be as effective. Research suggests these do not work, as people feel that someone else is attempting to control their lives and behaviour. Creating awareness and involving citizens is key to bridging the gap.

For example, instead of asking people not to waste water, questions like “Do you think you are wasting water?” can be asked. These questions ask people about their opinions, thereby forcing them to pause, reflect upon them, and appropriately behave as it will be harder for them to justify their wrong behaviour.

– Not just data, but stories: Focus must be on sharing stories, not just plain statistics. Data can only inform. Stories and personalised messages can connect by evoking emotion in the people. For instance:

“Raising the AC setting by1°C can save you 6% power, and such an energy conservation measure has the potential to save crores annually. – This statement doesn’t elicit any emotion.

“If we raise the AC temp by 1°C in 100 urban homes, we can help 10 rural children to study under an electric light bulb in place of kerosene oil.” – This statement connects and inspires people to take action, effecting a behavioural change.

– Making interventions rewarding: Interventions are usually in the form of rules, mandates or penalties. Instead, they could also take the form of nudges. A nudge costs much less and steers people in a particular direction while also allowing them to choose their path. Research on behaviour change suggests the need for accessible, automatic and rewarding interventions.

For instance: An example of a nudge gaining popularity is providing nutrition facts of different foods on restaurants’ menus. It is effortless and compelling for consumers to choose what they want while nudging them towards a healthier option

– Using digital technologies: Digitally enabled tailored recommendations on healthy food, engaging in exercise and other interventions can also help in changing people’s eating habits and behaviours in the long run.

Source: This post is based on the article “Can people’s behaviour change for better?” published in Times of India on 6th Jan 2022.

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