Behavior Change
How to *Use* Human Behavior to Change Human Behavior

Joss Tantram of Terrafiniti started the final workshop of SB’15 London by simplifying the title of the session and calling it ‘old challenges, new tools,’ and giving us three change challenges to think about:

  1. Context:Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge’ - Plato
    People do not make choices in a vacuum - they make them based on what is available. When it comes to choosing a sustainable product, only 13-17 percent of people will make a choice that is not easy.
  2. Human quirks: While we change all the time, there are some changes we rush towards and others we run from; this is something unique about us as humans.
    We have an illogical attachment to the status quo. Mass behavior change is the challenge but that’s difficult when novelty attracts people to change and familiarity convinces them to stay as they are.
  3. The territory: The challenge of change is huge because it brings together systems, production and behavior.

We are at a point in time when we really need to commit to ‘out with the old, in with the new.’ However, it’s far easier to get products on to the market than it is to remove problematic ones.

But why do people make the choices they make? Rationality, custom and comfort all play a role, so new approaches within psychology and neuroscience have a lot to teach us about behavior change.

This provided the platform for Alex Batchelor of Brainjuicer to take the stage and delve deeper into behavioral economics. He asked: How many patients successfully change their diet and lifestyle as a consequence of heart bypass surgery? Not many. Doctors have even seen their patients walk straight out the hospital doors and into the McDonald’s across the road.

Batchelor played some videos that illustrated the point that people do illogical things. We each have a reality of what we are expecting to happen in any given situation (context). This learnt reality of a situation affects us for the rest of our lives and it’s hard to break away from, however illogical that might be.

Therefore, we have to consider human behavior through three lenses:

  1. Environment
  2. Society
  3. Feelings and emotions

Batchelor then asked: Which is bigger in terms of CO2 emissions - data centers or global aviation? This might not be a big surprise to the audience, but they are almost equal. But if even people knew this, it’s very unlikely it would change their behavior (they would still continue to use the Internet).

So with all this in mind, the question was posed as to how behavioral science might challenge marketing.

Well for starters, the environment we choose matters. It’s all about framing. For instance, one of the best places for Rolls Royce to sell a £350,000 car is at a boat or a plane show - Mr. or Mrs. Billionaire has just resisted spending millions on a new superyacht, so picking up a £350,000 car to cheer them up seems like a bargain.

Secondly, it’s about copying. And if you haven’t tried the old ‘pointing at something in the distance with your friends/family and seeing who copies’ trick, you are missing out. People will even think they see things you can’t.

Finally emotion has a big role to play. If you feel nothing, you do nothing.

Of course, there’s more: Ease is also a big factor, and consumers are lazy - they won’t even do the math to assess a deal. If it looks like it might better value, they believe it.

In conclusion, Batchelor recommended that companies use human behavior to help them achieve their objectives. It not communication, but connection with behavior, that’s going to make a difference.

Behavioral designer Sille Krukow picked up on the message about ‘ease’ by discussing how you can design customer experiences in ways that make the sustainable choice, the easy choice.

Sustainability starts with having an ambition, associated with some kind of measurable change in behavior – ex: saving water, reducing food waste or preventing littering. It’s about ensuring sustainable choices are made every day.

So what do we do? Well, typically, we try to:

  • Educate
  • Motivate
  • Regulate

And in that order - but it doesn’t work. People may be saying they want to make better everyday choices but are still using cars not bikes, overconsuming, wasting food and the ice is still melting. Even though we have the right ambitions and right knowledge and right tools, nothing is changing. We thought that knowledge, which led to ambition, would lead to behavior change. But it didn’t.

There is a simple explanation and it is all to do with our brains, biologically: We rely on two parallel brain systems to control our actions. First, we have our conscious (reflective) system. This is where we translate the information we receive, analyzing it and deciding what to do. This takes a lot of energy, so our brains also have a second and faster system that’s automatic, and controls all our actions that we don’t need to think about - this system is responsible for 90 percent of everything we do, because we don’t have enough energy for everything to be run through our reflective system.

To process what we need to do in each situation, actions become automatic based on past experiences - the ‘contexts’ and ‘social norms’ combined with the ‘flaws in our brains’ that Tantram and Batchelor mentioned - which was fine, when humanity lived in a far simpler environment. But today, we have to make sense of our complex environment; to do that, we need good “choice architectures.” We need to map the cues and guides that help us.

So when we are failing, instead of blaming each other, we need to examine the choice architecture for what’s going wrong. Krukow drew on an example where her team had been looking at reducing food waste at the Danish Opera House. She stated that the brain sees things in learned units, one of which is a plate. So to change the existing choice architecture so there is less wastage, the answer was to change the size of the plates given out at a buffet; just this small action reduced the food wasted by 26 percent.

Tantram wrapped up the session with three standout messages:

  1. Feel nothing, do nothing – emotion is everything;
  2. Use human behavior to solve sustainability problems - it is not an education challenge;
  3. Stop looking at the chooser - look at the choice architecture to make a difference.

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