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CHESC 2012 Take-Aways - Behavior Change

A few hours ago, I returned home from the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference at UC Davis (click here to read others previous posts I've published about the conference). My notebook has 10 pages, front and back, filled with ideas, best practices, reminders, and contact information from others who attended the conference, which brings together students, staff, and faculty from higher education institutions (and others who work with higher education) throughout California. I attended the conference because I work in the Sustainability Office at UC Santa Cruz, and next year I will be leading a team focused on Education & Outreach to our campus community regarding not only the work our office does, but also the work of the sustainability community at UCSC in general. This year, I've worked on developing our monthly newsletter, our new student-written blog, and our growing Facebook page, and next year the team will continue to work on these outlets as well as use the communications plan written by this past year's team leader to learn and implement more ideas for ways to engage students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members throughout the Santa Cruz area.

That being said, it's no wonder that I chose the kinds of workshops and sessions that I did; I was striving to gain some know-how on sustainability specific marketing and outreach, but more specifically, I wanted to learn what others are doing in the arena of behavior change and what they have found to be a challenge, as well as what has worked well for them. Thus, I'm devoting this take-aways post to behavior change because it is so important to the work that I'm hoping to do next year. Here are some descriptions of what I took away from the conference regarding behavior change:

Identify What People Jive With
In my previous post about the conference, I talked about helping others identify their role in sustainable practices, both as an individual and in their job or area of study. When talking with them about the importance of sustainability, it's important to recognize that they're busy like everyone else and they want to hear how they can easily make changes that won't disrupt everything. While some of us want them to disrupt everything and make big changes, sometimes you have to start small for people to get on-board with sustainability. Finding ways that they can implement sustainability that makes sense and which seems naturally part of their job description is a good first step.

With this though, is something that a student I met today from UC Davis brought up. He asked me what got me interested in sustainability and what keeps me interested. I realized how vital that question is to understanding behavior change, and I remember my mentor asking me this question earlier this year before she gave a presentation to a class about behavior change. It's a great question because it's essentially asking "what changed your behavior?"

Everyone in the sustainability community has something that got them interested in sustainability, whether it's because they grew up with parents interested in it, or because they love the science of it, or because they have a place in their hearts that they think of and want to protect, or because it's simply the right thing to do--but for some people, it might be because they took a class, watched a video, read a book. I want to find those people who discovered the value of thinking about sustainability from really clear experiences and identify how those experiences worked to really make a difference. In other words, what really jives with people? It's certainly not the same thing for everyone, but perhaps there are patterns. Now I'm sounding like a psychology student, and that reaffirms for me how much great work could come from partnering with psychology students who study these kinds of things. Any UCSC psych majors out there looking to partner? Send me an email please! So now I have to ask my readers: why are you interested in sustainability? and if you aren't interested in sustainability, what do you love about this planet or about this life or your community, and where do the foundational values of sustainability fit into that world? Can sustainability make your life better, or make your community cleaner, or your family and friends safer? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Next steps: Start asking people questions and look for patterns. Look at what works, such as Mr. Eco from Cal Poly SLO (you have got to watch his videos if you haven't), the behavior change campaigns that have taken place in staff offices on various campuses, and making sustainability cool, which many schools seem to be good at doing through creating culture symbols (catch phrases on bags, green superhero mascots, polar bears, etc.).

Research Results from UC Berkeley Worth Sharing
I attended a session called "Change the Default: Using Social Marketing Research to Promote Behavior Change Campaigns," and aside from the Student Convergence and the "Campus ad Community-Wide Communication Strategies" sessions, this one had the most take-aways for me. Here are some of the research results they presented:
  • Telling people what not to do is more effective than telling them what to do
    • Don't walk through the landscape restoration area, for example, rather than Please stay on the trail
  • Highlight losses as a result of inaction, rather than gains as a result of action
    • You will lose this much money if you do not change your lightbulbs, for example, rather than You will save this much money if you do change your lightbulbs
  • Telling people that others are doing something, so they should too is effective. It's all about social norms and creating community action.
  • Don't rely on fear because people simply distance themselves from bad news
  • Foster internal motives, rather than create external incentives because once those incentives eventually go away, the motivation goes away, too
  • Beware of "totem behaviors," where people choose one sustainable action and do that only, thinking they are then totally sustainable and don't have to do anything else
  • Develop social norms by showing what you want to happen, not what you don't want to happen
  • Find the right place and time, including time of the year and media/location of where you're advertising your behavior change campaign
  • Change the default so that people don't even have to think about the change necessarily: double-sided printing, placing organic foods at eye-level, etc.
  • Frame your situation. This can come in many forms, such as making it fun, formatting your email or poster in particular ways, etc.
  • Give something back, such as cash rewards in contests, candy, etc., but going back to the incentives issue, it cannot be the only thing that gets them to make the changes
  • Don't be too dramatic and know your audience
Speaking of knowing your audience, the one really clear thing that stuck out to me from this was the notion that in order to truly know your audience, you have to observe them in person living their lives. Surveys are great to get a general sense of people's reactions to things, but to truly know whether they are actually making changes in their behavior, we have to go observe them. There were a lot of other things that came up during this session and I will post their powerpoint notes to my blog once they're up on the CHESC website.

Other great ideas and where they came from
  • For energy competitions, using colored indicators of how each dorm is doing (green, yellow, red) - Cal Poly SLO
  • Keeping the momentum up during contests and competitions through sub-competitions, mini-contests at the end for those who clearly will not win the big prize, and constant reminders about the contest and the prizes - Cal Poly SLO
  • Collaboration with housing to get involved during student orientation is a great way to engage freshman, but the key is planning ahead and being prepared and flexible - Cal Poly SLO
  • Collaborate with other student groups on campus to pool resources, ideas, and build on strengths - UC Santa Barbara Plastic Pollution Coalition
  • Using consistent signage, mascots, phrases, outreach times, etc. - Cal Poly SLO and UC Santa Barbara
There's so much more in my notes that it's almost overwhelming, but I think these are the main behavior change/education and outreach topics that struck me during the past week. Hopefully these are useful to you as ways to better your outreach to your campus or community.

Thanks for reading, and I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

--Green Gal

P.S. All the photos are from my backyard garden, which was planted by my sister and mom. A full album of photos can be found on the Green Gal Facebook page here.