The Importance of Behavior Change

By Mahdi Adittya, Zero Waste

Working at the Environmental Center I am always amazed at the passion and hard work each member of the EC pours out for a cause they are really passionate about. Everyone working here also engages others in the world to make a change for the better.

I try to work for the same goal of encouraging others in my community to be active in bettering the environment. But a struggle I face is bringing out the behavior change in people to create a more sustainable future. Having gone the the AASHE conference this fall, I have heard many environmentalists share the same dilemma in many of their panels. Many sessions there touched on the topic of outreach and on how to bring in the necessary behavior change among people.

A particularly insightful session that I found useful have talked of the importance of behavior change and its implementation by sharing a few key points that are needed to create a successful behavior change. A major talking point was the recognition of the cognitive struggles people have, these are mental barriers that makes it difficult for people to change their behavior even if they want to. Even if someone is environmentally conscious and empathetic to it, they may not be able to change their behavior to take the necessary steps.

Things to look out for is automatic thinking or the cognitive biases people may have, such as taking the shortcut in most instances or a person’s present emotional state. Social thinking is a major thing to watch out for as well; the influence others may put on us could potentially stop us from doing what we value. And other psychological barriers could be our value of the present more than the future and our struggle making decisions that deals with uncertainty.

If an environmentalist wants to get through these mental struggles in people they need to do rigorous research because each person have different values or different ways of thinking. We need to research the issues for which we want to change among people, set a defined goal, identify and understand our target audience and lastly segment our audience in the different values they hold. There is a lot of work that goes in to implement a successful behavior change, we need to access the behavior we want to implement by mapping each person’s priorities, making a lengthy sequence on how to make others reach the desired behavior.

It is a long and difficult process that environmentalists may need to go through in order to encourage others to be active about their values and encourage them to take the necessary actions which would reduce our footprint. But all the efforts should be worth it.

Going to the AASHE conference has definitely made me aware of the importance behavior change in the environmental sector. I hope to be more successful in persuading people to make necessary change for better environmental outcomes and hope other environmentalists research more on the matter of behavior change and are able to implement it successfully to encourage more people to take the necessary steps for a better future.