Could Behavioural Science Help Us Save Our Planet?

In the face of the climate crisis, we know that creative industries, brands, and businesses wield significant influence in driving behaviour change.

But how do we spark that eco-fire in people's hearts? Behavioural science uncovers the hidden forces shaping our decisions and gives us the tools to create impactful purpose-driven communication.

Principle 1: Social Proof

The human tendency to mirror the actions of others

Show What's ‘In’: Creating positive norms around sustainable consumption will encourage consumers to embrace eco-friendly alternatives. Just like how Oatly revolutionised the perception of oat milk by positioning it as the "milk for humans" and making it a staple in coffee shop culture.

Utilise Influencers: Associate your brand with influential personalities. Take a page from Wild's book, collaborating with popular figures to make eco-living fashionable and aspirational.

Create Communities: Let's foster communities that feel like home for those who embody your brand values. Pukka Herbs does it right with 'The Pukka Collective', bringing tea lovers and wellness enthusiasts together.

Tell Success Stories: Share tales of triumph from real people who've embraced purposeful practices. HelloFresh showcases success through customer testimonials, motivating others to join the movement.

Make Green the New Black: Let's make eco-options the stars of the show, front and centre in every store aisle. Candy Kittens is leading the way, making vegan and B Corp-certified sweets impossible to miss in mainstream retailers.

Principle 2: Nudging

The human tendency to use subtle cues to guide decision-making 

Set Them Up for Success: Make eco-choices the default, so folks don't even have to think twice about doing the right thing. The widespread adoption of reusable bags over single-use plastic bags across the UK exemplifies how this strategy can be implemented on a large scale.  Bulb, for instance, gives its customers a nudge by making renewable energy the default choice.

Design for Good Choices: Let's rearrange the furniture and design environments that make green options stand out. THIS™ does it well, placing meat-free products next to traditional meat options in supermarkets, making it easier for consumers to opt for plant-based alternatives.

Spin It Positively: Paint a picture of the sunny side of sustainable living. Method does this by framing their cleaning products positively, emphasising their ‘house-proud’ aesthetic benefits alongside their eco-friendliness.

Principle 3: Hyperbolic Discounting

The human tendency to prioritise immediate rewards over long-term benefits

Harness Instant Gratification: Make going green feel immediately rewarding. Ecologi allows individuals and businesses to offset their carbon footprint by planting trees and supporting carbon reduction projects. They send subscribers regular updates on the impact of their contributions and the tangible results.

Tug at Heartstrings: Connect eco-actions with feel-good vibes that appeal to our emotions. Riverford Organic does this by promoting the emotional benefits of supporting local farmers and reducing food miles, appealing to consumers' desire for authenticity and connection.

Remind Them of Tomorrow: Show folks that their choices today can paint a brighter picture for tomorrow. Toast Brewing uses surplus bread to brew delicious beers while highlighting the long-term benefits of reducing food waste.

Principle 4: Loss Aversion

The human tendency to be more motivated to avoid losses than to acquire gains

Fear of Missing Out: Tap into that universal FOMO and show how being green is the place to be. Too Good To Go capitalises on social norms and encourages users to join a community committed to reducing food waste. By emphasising a collective effort, they trigger individuals' fear of missing out on being part of a movement and drive participation.

Highlight What's at Stake: Remind folks of the not-so-pretty consequences of not making conscious choices. Who Gives A Crap emphasises the environmental consequences of not choosing eco-friendly alternatives by illustrating the impact of deforestation and plastic waste on our planet, appealing to the consumers' aversion to contributing to harm.

Paint a Vivid Picture: Use storytelling to show the real-world impacts of not taking action. National Geographic and WWF do this by vividly illustrating the potential losses associated with biodiversity decline or climate change, evoking a sense of urgency and personal responsibility, compelling individuals to take action to avoid those losses.

By understanding and tapping into these behavioural science nuggets, brands and businesses can lead the charge towards a greener, brighter future.

Written by

Emily Barlow