Here’s How You Can Be Nudged to Eat Healthier, Recycle and Make Better Decisions Every Day
By José Antonio Rosa
Every day, you make important choices — about whether to feast on fries or take a brisk walk, whether to spend or save your paycheck, whether to buy the sustainable option or the disposable plastic one.
Life is made up of countless decisions. The idea of nudging people in the right direction, instead of relying on their internal motivation, has gained traction over the last decade.
In general, nudging involves gently coaxing someone into a decision or behavior. The perfect nudge is one that results in the desired decision or behavior without the person recognizing any external influence.
Think of employees being automatically enrolled in retirement savings programs. Workers who must opt out, instead of needing to opt in, participate more in retirement savings. Or picture those little cards in hotel bathrooms encouraging people to reuse their towels by stating that most hotel guests do, instead of appealing to the guests' social responsibility.
In these and countless similar situations, people feel in control, but were nudged to prefer one option over the other.
So how does all this nudging work within the mind? As someone who studies consumer decision-making, I can tell you: It's complicated.
You’re of Two (or More) Minds
Neuroscientists, starting with pioneers like Antonio Damasio, have shown that the brain is not like a computer where complex programs deliver optimal solutions. In fact, the mind seems to involve many relatively simple systems, some inside the head and some distributed throughout the body.
These systems are not always in agreement. Some systems are selfish and shortsighted, some care about relationships with others and some prioritize transcendent things such as God and the future of humanity. In addition, people aren't equally conscious of each mechanism, so that sometimes you make decisions carefully and thoughtfully and other times you make them fast and intuitively.
When your systems are in contention, which one informs your next decision depends on what else is happening in that moment. A diabetic, for example, may thoughtfully consider his long-term health and family responsibilities — and even God's will — when deciding to eat the salad and not the breadsticks at Olive Garden one day. But on his next visit, he might respond to the smell of fresh-baked bread by devouring every breadstick in the basket. Different situations, different mechanisms, different decisions.
Appeals to Your Internal Norms
Nudging can work via many mechanisms, some conscious and some not. Typically you don't recognize you're being nudged.
One nudge method relies on highlighting the decisions of others you may consider influential. After reading that "Most other guests staying at this hotel reuse towels," many people envision others like them or maybe of higher status reusing towels. They feel compelled to align their behavior with that of the majority in order to fit in. The decision is theirs, but they've been nudged.
Another nudge technique focuses on how one should act in a particular situation. These are sometimes called "injunctive norms," and they can vary by culture. Imagine the towel appeal had instead read, "By reusing towels, you join millions who care about the environment." In this case the guest's subconscious concern about earning the disapproval of those "millions" of others triggers him to hang up his towels.
And if the towel message is instead phrased that "reusing towels meets a high standard for environmental responsibility," it highlights self-imposed standards or norms, if they exist in the decision maker. Such personal norms are termed injunctive because they involve beliefs about right and wrong that consider transcendent and abstract concepts, such as devotion and obedience to God.
Interestingly, such prompting — whether by subjective social or personal norms — does not work on everyone. Some may work better in some cultures (for instance, in Asian societies) and with some age groups (such as in younger people) than others.
Setting the Scene for a Desired Choice
Another way to nudge people is to change the decision environment. This technique is sometimes called "choice architecture."
Let's assume that a grocery store is trying to encourage consumers to purchase ecologically responsible products, such as recycled paper notebooks. If all eco-friendly products are displayed together in an end-of-aisle display, people notice and their internalized norms are activated. But it may not translate into multiple purchases, because buying just one product suffices to meet the norm. If the products are displayed throughout the store, though, so multiple in-store displays can re-trigger the internalized norm, it's likely that more ecologically responsible purchases will be made in the same shopping trip.
Nudging people is not deception. In most cases, nudging works by raising a particular decision or behavior's prominence. If you're already predisposed toward something — like eating healthy — a nudge helps tip your mental mechanisms in that direction. Nudges are reinforcement, especially in cases when your decision-making mechanisms are in contention with each other — like when the aroma of fresh bread is wafting through the air.
At the same time, that wafting aroma is in itself a nudge. It may be deliberately enhanced to promote pleasurable consumption that improves mood and may lead to more spending or more generous tipping. Nudging can work to enhance or suppress virtuous behaviors, and it is the responsibility of companies and organizations to use nudging judiciously and responsibly.
Nudging cannot make people do something they don't want to do, although sometimes the desire is nonconscious and lurking in the background. It only encourages them to follow through on a decision or behavior that may be currently overshadowed by other factors. It's when individuals believe consciously that the decision or behavior — be it healthy eating, buying environmentally responsible products, or saving for retirement — is beneficial that nudging works best.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.