Environmental Psychology 6 - Sustainable intervention

Environmental Psychology elective at Leiden University (2020-2021)

Lecture 6: Sustainable interventions

Schultz, P. W., 2014. Strategies for promoting proenvironmental behavior.

Community Based Social Marketing and a strategy for choice of intervention techniques
Five principles:
  1. Identify specific behavior
  2. Identify barriers and incentives
  3. Program development
  4. Pilot test
  5. Full scale implementation and evaluation

Providing information/education:

  • Providing insight into the structure of the environmental problems
  • Increasing awareness of need
  • Increasing responsibility
  • Explaining personal benefits
  • Changing social approval, social norm
  • Decreasing social uncertainty
  • Provide procedural information
  • Changing affective meaning of environmental issues (e.g.: it's cool to drive a Tesla)

Direct behavioral information:

PROMPTS (encouragement/reminder)

  • Effective if:

    • Specific
    • In proximity of target behavior
    • Simple behavior (turning of light or water)
    • Friendly
    • Salient (catching attention)

FEEDBACK (information about performed behavior and/or effects of behavior)

  • Effective if:

    • Communicated soon after behavior
    • In meaningful units
    • Compared to relevant standard
    • Goal present

Other types of interventions:

  • Commitment

    • Lokhorst, A. M., Werner, C., Staats, H., van Dijk, E., & Gale, J.   L. (2013). Commitment and behavior change: A meta-analysis   and critical review of commitment-making strategies in environmental research.
  • Modelling: showing people how other people behave sustainably, and what you can do
  • Mobilizing social network (Carbon Conversations)
  • Tailoring (direct your message as specific as possible to the target)

Staats, H., Harland, P., & Wilke, H. A., 2004. Effecting durable change: A team approach to improve environmental behavior in the household

  • EcoTeam approach to improve environmental behavior in the household

    • An intervention package of information, feedback and social support, preferably in a group setting
    • Competence building, intrinsic motivation, trying without risk
  • Mobilizing social networks
  • Governmental support

EcoTeam Program:

Structured action program for environmental behavior in the household

Three components:

  • Workbook: background information and specific behavioral advice
  • Feedback: information about the effects of previously performed behavior
  • EcoTeam: support, information, social comparison
Research question: What element (information, feedback, social influence) of the ETP influences behavior change most?


  • Social influence is the only factor that can buffer the negative effect of strong car use habits
  • EcoTeam Program is a demanding program with extraordinary sustainable behavioral changes and savings
  • EcoTeam Program manages to keep prior sustainable intentions “alive” (despite the non-sustainable habits), due to social influence of the Team

Poortinga, W., & Whitaker, L., 2018. Promoting the use of reusable coffee cups through environmental messaging, the provision of alternatives and financial incentives

Problem of disposable coffee cups (in UK)

  • Disposable coffee cups use: 2.5 to 10 billion yearly
  • 1 out of 400 cups is being recycled
  • 500.000 cups are littered every day

Intervention package:

  • Additive design:

    • Messaging
    • Alternatives
      • Reusable cups for sale
      • Free reusable cups distributed
    • Financial incentives
      • Charge for disposable cups
      • Discount for reusable cups

Main outcome of intervention:

  • Small effects, but additive (up to 16.5% more hot drink sales with reusable cups)

Importance of research:

  • Collaboration with stake holders (café owners)
  • Managing to keep the experimental design going on long term
  • Showing that sales were undiminished making it commercially viable
  • Positive sustainable outcomes

Van Horen, F., Van der Wal, A. J., & Grinstein, A. (2018). Green, greener, greenest: Can competition increase sustainable behavior?

Competition in a sustainability domain enhances pro-environmental behavior

IMPORTANTLY, it reaches a broad public:

  • Pro-selfs (who normally not act sustainably) are probably motivated by self-interest aspects of the competition
  • Pro-socials are motivated by the goal of the competition

Schultz, P. W. et al ., 2007. The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms.

Acting according to the norm: gaining knowledge on how much energy others use has an effect on you

  • Those who hear that their neighbours consume less energy also start consuming less energy
  • Those who hear that their neighbours consume more energy, also start consuming more energy. This is called the Boomerang effect.

How to reduce Boomerang effect? Once people gain knowledge of how they compare to others, they receive a smiley face for when they consume less energy, and a sad face if they use more energy. This injunctive norm buffered the boomerang effect

Societal impact + Recognition:

  • Average energy savings ranged from 2% to 5%
  • Over the past 10 years more than $1 billion has been saved in household energy costs
  • 13 billion pounds of CO2 emissions have been reduced
  • 11 billion kWh have been saved (enough electricity to power 1 million U.S. homes for a year)

For a cheerful end to the lecture notes:

“We believe that the easiest way to change people's behaviour for the better is by making it fun to do. We call it The Fun Theory"

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Comments, Compliments & Kudos:

Thanks for your clear notes!

I see you have covered all the important questions of this topic, very chill !! Also nice that you answered the questions in detail - everything is now very clear! I was wondering... what do you think is the best solution for the problem of disposable coffee cups?

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