Why behavioural change for Sustainability is difficult (and how to make it easier)
Last week I was locking my bike outside one of my regular refuelling points when two Mobike employees appeared and started rounding up some of their dockless bikes which had been left there. “We play ‘how many are in the River Tyne today?'” one of them joked to me. But there was a serious point behind the jest – Mobikes are undoubtedly getting people cycling, but the dockless nature does mean they are left in all kinds of places, good and bad. And people are starting to complain.
A number of wags on Twitter (another good and bad thing) have created the ‘dockless car’ meme – pointing out that while people complain about the bikes, the anti-social behaviour of many drivers doesn’t raise the same hackles.
These dockless cars are everywhere! pic.twitter.com/tJgnl5MHm1
— Adam Debreczeni (@heyadam) May 12, 2018
Why? Familiarity. We don’t see the badly parked cars because we’re used to them, but the bikes are novel so they stand out – the same way that you notice all kinds of architectural detail in a foreign city while ignoring similar beauty in your home town.
We need to understand the psychology of change if we are to make Sustainability happen. People will look past plantation forests, grain silos and radar domes to complain about wind turbines ‘blighting’ the countryside. They will get upset if you remove their waste baskets in favour of paper recycling bins or ban single-use takeaway coffee cups from the cafeteria. You are upsetting their routine and they will hate you for it.
Here’s my five top tips to help you bring change to your organisation:
- Ditch the green-speak in favour of Green Jujitsu (adopting the language, imagery and tone of your audience)
- Involve people in designing the new system/product/process/procedure;
- Make the Sustainable option easier to use than the old one (making people jump through hoops to prove their commitment to Sustainability is one of the stupidest ideas of all stupid ideas);
- Make sure all people in positions of responsibility – including you – are seen to be doing the new thing.
- Buy a tin hat and keep it close to hand.