Investing in behavioral design can help fight climate change


Hidden in the IPCCs latest climate report is a solution to reducing CO2 emissions that is receiving less attention than solar panels or electric cars: “Choice Architecture” or behavioral design that can help influence consumers to make better climate choices, whether it be cycling to work Or eat less meat.

It’s an important part of the overall fight against climate change, says Mindy Hernandez, who heads the World Resources Institute Living Lab for fair climate protection, a program applying behavioral science to climate change. “We’ve taken a supply-side approach to climate change for 50 years,” she says. “And as the IPCC report makes clear, this approach is not getting us where we should be and we are running out of time. Supply is just one arm – the behavioral side is the other arm that we need to get through the crisis. It’s not one or the other. It’s both. The behavioral lens should complement the policy changes and the technical side.”

She compares it to what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Vaccine development — the technology — was critical,” she says. “But [the] NIH [National Institutes of Health]CDC [Centers for Disease Control]and others invested a tiny fraction of that time, money, and effort to find out how Getting people to take these vaccines. When recently asked what the NIH could have done differently in its fight against COVID, the outgoing director of the NIH said, “Maybe we underinvested in behavioral science. We shouldn’t make the same mistake in the climate crisis.”

The IPCC report estimates that “comprehensive demand-side strategies” across all sectors could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 40% to 70% by 2050. durable products to redesigning infrastructure to help people switch from cars to bikes or public transport.

Even simple changes affect behavior. In a classic example, a software company called Opower (later acquired by Oracle) partnered with utility companies Redesign the electricity bill, shared a chart comparing their usage to neighbors – and a smiley face if they were one of the most efficient homes. The energy consumption dropped and the effects lasted for a long time. WRI recently tested the same approach in India.

“The average effect of Opower-like studies is 7%, and interestingly, that’s exactly what we found — the intervention lowered household energy by 7%,” she says. “Scale to the state, it would be like taking 100,000 cars off the road and saving consumers $60 million a year.”

In another example, WRI tested how changing the language on a menu can make people choose plant-based foods. A message about how plant-based foods reduce emissions increased plant-based orders in the study, although Hernandez notes that the message must be a targeted one; Climate change skeptics probably need different language than those who pay attention to their consumption habits. “It seems so obvious, but too often we see people as monoliths,” she says. “I’m Puerto Rican and it blows my mind every time people talk about the ‘Latino vote.’ Third-generation Cubans, Puerto Ricans in New York City, and first-generation Mexicans will have other concerns. Creating a single behavioral intervention for all of these different communities is not going to work well.”

In previous studies, Stanford University researchers looked at how to influence people to order more plant-based meals by using language on menus that makes the food sound more indulgent. Google has tested similar efforts in its staff canteens, working to develop plant-based “power meals” that guests are more likely to order.

Another useful tool is to get people to opt out of making more sustainable choices — for example, automatically enrolling them in a renewable energy program. “People still have a choice because they can choose not to. But it makes the pro-social, pro-environmental choice easier. This is especially important for populations that lack the time, education and resources to seek the renewable energy option. Defaults correct this by getting the job done and making that choice easier for everyone,” says Hernandez.

But behavioral design goes beyond these little nudges. “It shouldn’t stay that way. We don’t live in isolated bubbles of personal choice,” notes Hernandez. “Individual behavior is influenced by our environment, so we need to apply behavioral science at both the micro level, which responds to individual choices and behaviors, and at the system level.” For example, a city could put up signs telling people where to find a common Finding bikes to rent is a simple nudge, “but if people don’t feel safe on the street or have access to affordable bikes, that’s not enough,” she says. “It moves pillows.”

Urban design, which uses protected bike lanes on streets to make people feel comfortable while riding, is another form of behavioral design.

In the world of climate activism, some people argue that thinking about individual behavior is a distraction. The fossil fuel lobby has worked for years to make climate change appear more of a consumer problem than a fossil industry problem the invention of the concept of “carbon footprint”. Of course, political changes must also be made. But that doesn’t mean that individual changes are irrelevant. Overall, it matters whether people choose to replace petrol cars with electric cars (or bikes) or gas stoves with induction cookers.

Some behaviors are particularly important because of their outsized impact. “The KR Foundation uses a term I like: Hot Spot Behavior‘ says Hernandez. “These are the behaviors we know have the greatest impact on climate – meat and dairy consumption, fossil fuel-based energy, car use and air travel. This varies a bit regionally. India, for example, does not have to focus on eating meat. And by demographic, low-income people do not contribute to aviation emissions. However, for most middle- and/or upper-income, climate-conscious professionals, the biggest contributor to emissions is their flying habits.”

The Living Lab explores ways to engage consumers to adopt smart charging for electric vehicles, help people switch from driving to walking or cycling in cities, and create social norms to reduce business travel. This summer, the researchers will publish a paper outlining ways to change these so-called hot-spot behaviors.

Several factors are important to the success of behavioral design, starting with investing enough time and money to test, tweak, and retest new iterations. Those working on interventions should also form coalitions; If a government wants to reduce car use, it needs to work with bike-sharing and scooter companies and other researchers studying how new products can contribute to adoption and use. But interventions should also be ambitious. “We can think bigger than billboards or green recycling bins,” says Hernandez. “The fate of the planet literally hangs in the balance.” Investing in behavioral design can help fight climate change


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