Number 5Understanding ChoiceSummer 2006
Defra’s 5 year strategy – (Delivering the Essentials of Life1) coupled with the UK Government sustainable development strategy (Securing the Future2) set out an ambitious agenda for environmental leadership and sustainable development. Embedding these core principles relies on influencing change and making it easier for producers and consumers to behave more sustainably. This is a sizeable task, since changing behaviours is a complex matter and innovative solutions are required.
In July 2005, Defra initiated a programme of research that aimed to broaden understanding of how Government (and others) can most effectively promote pro-environmental behaviour amongst producers and consumers.
... Producers choose to use resources in a way which may or may not be sustainable. Consumers choose to buy products which may or may not be sustainable in their use of resources. Such choices are important throughout the life span of a product, service, or utility from production, to purchase, to consumption and disposal. It is these choices which must take into account environmental pressures and sustainability issues over and above aesthetic appearance, must-have branding and basic functionality. The question therefore is how to make sustainability an automatic and primary part of producer and consumer choice, rather than a self-satisfying added extra.
... Restricting choice, constraining freedom
It is generally assumed that more choice is a good thing. However, there are many examples, within and beyond the environmental context, where behaviour change has been enforced (i.e. choice is restricted) and has subsequently led to changes in attitudes (e.g. banning smoking in public places for public health improvements).
Although behaviour change, driven by regulation, legislation and penalties can be very effective in producing results, it is often avoided as it is assumed that people want choice not legislation, and freedom not a “nanny state”.
Evidence suggests that there is a strong argument for the need to ‘kick start’ change through regulation.
...[P]eople are willing to change, but feel unable to do so. It takes a complex problem (obesity management) and shows it is not enough just to tell people what to do and how to do it. In this quote from Jane Ogden, the words ‘obesity epidemic’ could be replaced with the words climate change. It illustrates the urgency to do something:
“It would be dreadful if the obesity epidemic continued because we did too little. It would be disastrous if it continued because we feared doing too much.” (Ogden, 2005. pp.226)
... Case Study 1: The Paradox of Control in Managing Obesity Management, (Ogden, 2005).
... Non-psychological solutions to obesity management are often conceptualised as ‘letting people off’, ‘controlling’ or, horror of horrors, ‘the nanny state’. Obesity surgery is often thought of as not getting to the root of the problem and so inappropriate: choice is taken away from patients and decisions are made on their behalf. However, results of recent studies suggest that surgery not only results in dramatic weight loss, but alters the way in which people think about food: there is less preoccupation with food; people feel more in control of what and how they eat. Hence, the paradox of control. By taking choice and responsibility away from the individual through surgery, people regain the control that they had lost and achieve behaviour goals.
... A social network approach to influencing behaviour was explored in this research context to realise further the role of social networks as anchors of identity and behaviour which in turn affect decisions impacting on consumption and production.
... Provoking Emotions
The role of emotions and state of mind has been largely overlooked in research even though preliminary work suggests that ‘affect’ both positive and negative, has a powerful impact on behaviour (Kals and Maes, 2003).
Evidence suggests that sustainable behaviour can be substantially explained by moral emotions. Previous research has often focused on the role of negative emotions (such as fear) which plays part in the encouraging more positive environmental behaviour. However, recent transport research has shown that positive emotions play an important role in travel behaviour: the emotions evoked by travelling relate to people’s preference for a particular transport mode.
Case study 3 describes an experiment which evoked the emotion of fear as a basis for attitude change. It clearly shows that emotions have a part to play in encouraging sustainable consumption and production.
... Fear was confirmed as an important construct in influencing responses to information and it was concluded that negative emotion increases the extent to which information is systematically processed. The induction of fear was also influential over time. In generating fear appeal messages it should be remembered that risks associated with the environment are generally more likely to elicit low fear levels compared for example with public health issues. It is difficult to visualise a threat that is not immediately threatening in terms of personal proximity or time.
... This research has cross-cutting relevance to both the Sustainable Development Strategy (2005), and Defra’s Framework for Sustainable Consumption and Production (DEFRA 2003) as well as the work of many other Government departments, such as DTI, DfT and DCLG.
... The Choice Matters Final Report outlines an exemplar project using the example of influencing shoppers to buy locally produced food. The project is based on the approach of provoking emotions and would directly address sustainable consumption (e.g. through the reduction of air miles and supporting local food producers) and indirectly address sustainable production (e.g. through improvements to markets for British food suppliers). This project would aim to influence the general public and British food producers.
The example project suggests one application of this approach to address sustainable consumption and production. It could equally well apply to many other areas which link directly to the development of a sustainable economy, such as the purchase of other goods, the consumption of electricity and travel behaviour.
[BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION HAS ANOTHER GOAL: DISGUISED TRADE PROTECTIONISM]
The ultimate aim of the example project would be to increase the consumption of locally produced food. Underlying aims reflect the smaller goals that must be achieved in order to reach this objective. These include understanding:
• the role of positive and negative feelings and emotions in the purchase and consumption of locally produced food;
• how to make the purchase and consumption of locally produced food an instantly attractive option;
• how feelings towards the purchase and consumption of locally produced food can be evoked;
• the extent to which the purchase and consumption of locally produced food is driven by emotion rather than cognition;
• the role of emotion in automatising the purchase and consumption of locally produced food; and
• whether producers consider the role of mood and emotion during production.
1. Increased purchase and consumption of locally produced food.
2. Wider use of farmers’ markets.
3. Pressure on mass purchasing supermarkets to offer a wider and improved range of locally produced food.
4. Improved recognition of existing and/or new identifying symbols indicating food is produced in Britain (e.g. the Little Red Tractor).
5. Recommendations on the development of policies to encourage the purchase and consumption of locally produced food.