Moving the Needle with Behavioral Change

June 20, 2019 //
Moving the Needle associated illustration
Illustration by Jon Krause

 

This article was written for Fox Focus, the Fox School’s alumni magazine by Monica Wadhwa, associate professor, marking and supply chain management. Prior to her career in business academia, she has worked in the industry as a management consultant. Dr. Wadhwa’s research focuses on understanding the motivational and affective determinants of consumer decisions making.

There is a future with no drinkable water. There is a future in which the Amazon is populated with the skeletons of extinct animals and fossils of long-dead plants. There is a future in which humans will struggle to breathe.

It may sound like a distant future in a science fiction novel, but it is an imminent reality. Climate change impacts us in every facet of our lives. Everything we do, everything we eat, how we commute, how much we buy and how we discard it, has an impact on our planet.

Reversing climate change is about changing societal behaviors. As a behavioral scientist, I believe that my field of research—which is focused on understanding human behaviors and decision making—can help positively impact the globe.

To that extent, the Fox School of Business is proud to launch the Sustainability and Social Impact Strategic Initiative. This initiative, which is focused on researching, understanding and designing ways to nudge consumers into adopting sustainable consumption behaviors, is one way we’re moving the needle on climate change.

Focus on Long-Term Benefits

Resistance toward adopting sustainable behaviors often comes from our tendency to focus on short-term benefits, while devaluing long-term, more significant rewards. By understanding how and when consumers focus on future benefits, we can nudge them to change their behaviors around sustainable consumption.

For example, my research has found that when people are reminded of how busy they are, they tend to feel that they are valuable. This leads people to make decisions that are better from a long-term perspective–for example, being more likely to save money for the future than spending money on indulgences today.

Attaching Emotions

Another reason why people don’t adopt sustainable behaviors is that many feel a decreased sense of emotional attachment with nature and have begun to treat it as a separate entity. Building a more emotional relationship with nature might motivate people to place a greater focus on sustainable behaviors.

In my research, I am working on simple interventions that encourage the public to build positive memories with nature, such as inviting them to take pictures of their favorite outdoor spots in their neighborhood. This simple activity can make people feel more connected to nature, thus motivating them to adopt behaviors that are good for the environment in general.

Behavioral Science for Policy Change

Behavioral science does not only help design compelling interventions aimed at encouraging sustainable consumption. It can also help increase the effectiveness of government programs.

Take sustainable advertising, for example. Through my research, I found that people can imagine a danger more vividly when the message communicates a single risk as opposed to multiple risks. This insight can help policymakers, who spend a significant amount of money on sustainable advertising. Ensuring that these messages only communicate a single risk can result in an increased likelihood that readers will adopt the desired behaviors.

At the Fox School, we understand our responsibility as global citizens to create a positive impact on the world. The Sustainability and Social Impact Initiative is committed to acting on that sense of responsibility by focusing on research aimed at encouraging sustainable consumption and working with communities to implement these behavioral interventions.

Cleaner Actions for a Cleaner World: 8 Simple Ways to Live Greener At Home

  1. Switch one (or more!) appliance to an energy efficient model  
  2. Visit your local farmers market for groceries and produce
  3. Cancel your paper statements
  4. Unplug chargers and appliances when not in use
  5. Repurpose glass jars as leftover containers
  6. Reuse scrap paper
  7. When driving, combine all your errands for the week in one trip
  8. Donate your old clothes and furniture to thrift stores instead of throwing them away

Stay up-to-date on Fox School research at fox.temple.edu/idea-marketplace.

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