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Behaviour Change for Sustainability. Rhys Taylor & Will Allen at NZSSES Conference 2007. A role for community education for sustainability?. This paper’s about: Changes councils and government seek How people learn and change Insight from overseas comparisons

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Behaviour change for sustainability

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Rhys Taylor & Will Allen

at NZSSES Conference 2007

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

A role for community education for sustainability
A role for community education for sustainability?

This paper’s about:

  • Changes councils and government seek

  • How people learn and change

  • Insight from overseas comparisons

  • Who’s responding to NZ initiatives?

  • Barriers to change & opportunities to act

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Sustainability requires change
Sustainability requires change

  • New habits to adapt to resource scarcity, climate change, pollution, health needs...

  • But commerce and fashion may resist rather than assist sustainability (e.g. cars, air-flights, disposables, easy credit terms)

  • More than information is required, but the info has to be trustworthy.

  • Change is a learning process

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Typical toolkit promoting change
Typical toolkit promoting change

  • Existing work a mix of these 4

  • Underpinned by motivation, education and social incentives


Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Community education
‘Community Education’

  • Is much more than advertising

  • Learning is voluntary, and may be informal

  • Less often assesses or examined than at school or college – done for intrinsic value

  • Venues are community-based, accessible

  • Learner-focused, relevant, connected.

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Targets for sustainability education
Targets for sustainability education

  • Early adopters (follow green pioneers, but first want to understand why & how)

  • Early majority, (especially once they are parents and becoming future-focused).

  • But not the late majority, (still want to do the right thing, but wait pragmatically for incentives & social trends to carry them)

  • And not the resisters, who respond only to regulation & incentives

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Education more than advertising
Education more than advertising!

  • Seek a combination of information, a social setting that helps motivate and incentives to tackle barriers to change.

  • Social marketing ‘campaigns’ best suited to single issues with a clear call to action, while community education suited to more complex issues requiring multiple actions.

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Adult learners motivated by
Adult learners motivated by:

  • Discovery, exploration, testing (trial & error)

  • Setting their own pace, working through questions they pose, using discussion.

  • Increasing their sense of competence and adequacy (efficacy)

  • Removing a sense of helplessness or guilt, making a difference, cutting excess information (empowerment)

    Kaplan 2000. Note contrast from our Conference sessions!

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

International experience
International experience

  • The most common three approaches: provide info., explain consequences, offer exemplars and role models.

  • But the most effective approaches: prompt action practice, set specific goal or contract, encourage reflection and review.

  • The least effective were to induce regret or arouse fear.

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Uk and aus both agree
UK and Aus both agree...

  • Need to exemplify the changes sought

  • Enable them by tackling institutional or other barriers that deter change

  • Engage people learning to change, in social process; connect with their needs

  • Encourage by economic and social incentives, ‘contracts’, reminders, & celebration of success

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

In other words robinson 2002
In other words (Robinson 2002)

  • Exemplify = predispose people to change, suggest a new ‘norm’

  • Enable = understand perceptions and barriers, address these early

  • Engage = finding social triggers to change, using group settings for learning

  • Encourage = to satisfy needs, reward doing the right thing

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

What our study shows
What our study shows

  • Paper includes analysis of NZ and overseas case study projects against those four concepts.

  • Endorsement of interactive, repeated, facilitated social learning to generate behaviour change for sustainability – a community education plus social marketing approach

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Advantage of learning in groups
Advantage of learning in groups

  • Scope to measure and report findings;

  • Scope to try, experiment and feed back

  • Discussion, with safe ‘thinking aloud’;

  • Separation from skeptics and critics;

  • Facilitated process provides a context for information content, relates to lives;

  • Questions to clarify content.

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Who responded in nz
Who responded in NZ?

  • Sustainable Living Programme (aka Sustainable Households) established 2001 by local government, 20 councils by 2006.

  • Evening classes and study groups of 8 to 16 adults, series of 6 to 10 sessions, fee charged or free. Hundreds involved.

  • Mostly women, wide age range, educated, environmentally concerned.

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Impacts of sustainable living
Impacts of ‘Sustainable Living’

  • This and a previous paper (submitted to RSNZ Social Science Journal 2006, now in peer review) show evidence of actions taken after learning within study groups .

  • Each household shows range of energy and resource efficiency gains, consumer and gardening actions and sometimes travel pattern changes

Behaviour Change for Sustainability

Read more and learn at
Read more (and learn!) at

Contact the authors at: [email protected] (Will)

[email protected] (Rhys)

Phone Rhys direct on 03 960 2656

Continuing research is funded by FoRST.

Behaviour Change for Sustainability