Friends of the Behavioral Economics Blog, this week we present the paper “How to Effectively Promote Eco-Friendly Behaviors: Insights from Contextual Behavioral Science”, by Stapleton, A.; McHugh, L. and Karekla, M. (2022), in which authors think about how to promote behaviors that favor the ecological awareness of people and organizations.

Climate change is one of the major concerns of the 21st century for several reasons: it is occurring in the present, its severity is increasing rapidly, and human activity is contributing to this increase. 

Experts comment that, despite scientific consensus on the imminent and permanent effects of climate change, organized action to prevent further damage is, actually, minimal.

This is very interesting, as they suggest that climate change can be effectively reduced and managed through adaptation and mitigation. For humanity to survive and thrive, responses that involve both are necessary: mitigation, to reduce the behaviors that cause climate change; and adaptation, to adjust to the expected irreversible changes. 

In short, climate change is a problem caused by human behavior that can also be solved by human behavior. But to change human behavior in a meaningful and lasting way over time, a scientific understanding of it is needed. 

Contextual Behavioral Science (CBS) is an area of psychology that can help us in this mission. 

CBS draws on evidence to understand human behavior, especially language and cognition, as humans understand the world through their thoughts, experiences and senses. 

According to CBS, to promote practices that help reduce climate change, it is necessary for organizations and companies to examine their practices and improve them. In other words, consumer behavior does not just happen, but occurs in a particular context and is often guided by social reinforcement

The CBS proposes some strategies or starting points to improve ecological behaviors. For example, they point out how important it is to establish credibility

Messages that promote environmentally friendly behaviors are more likely to be effective when presented by a credible speaker. Credible speakers are those who are perceived by consumers as logical, sincere and knowledgeable. 

Organizations and companies can establish this credibility in a number of ways: either directly (by behaving in a way that people perceive them to be wise and honest) or verbally (by engaging with other organizations that consumers perceive to be credible). 

In addition, good leadership and an ability to manage high quality knowledge are also important to be more likely to support sustainable development corporate practices. 

The importance of the message making sense and increasing consumers’ perceived self-efficacy is also noted. That is, a message is more likely to promote a behavioral change if it appears plausible to the consumer. This means ensuring that the elements of the message are not contradictory to the consumer’s understanding of the world.

The importance of message plausibility has been addressed in the behavioral literature, especially regarding clinical patients’ adherence to their treatments. For example, if the disease and treatment are presented in a clear way and the doctor ensures that the patient fully understands them, there is a greater chance that the treatment will be successfully completed. 

On the other hand, the idea of facilitating the transition of ecological behaviors into habitual and routine behaviors is interesting. 

Establishing pro-environmental habits is the ultimate goal and it should be kept in mind that habits arise from continuous reinforcement until the behavior becomes automatic and cognitively efficient.

Therefore, organizations seeking to promote pro-environmental behaviors must also strive to turn them into habits and thus sustain the changes over the long term. 

In a nutshell, it is vital to combat climate change to establish credibility, incentivize effectively, be consistent, help people realize that they can achieve these changes and also align their motivations with their behavior. 

Some of the most significant gestures to stop climate change are quite simple and others, on the contrary, would involve sacrificing a number of comforts to which we have become accustomed in recent years. 

However, authors believe that, given the severity of the environmental crisis we are experiencing, behavioral change is more than justified if we want to save our planet

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