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3 Ways Behavioral Change Can Save the Planet

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Nov 23, 2023

In a world where our intentions clash with our actions, where our desire for convenience battles our commitment to the environment, a subtle but powerful revolution is brewing. The marriage of behavioral science and environmental consciousness is reshaping our choices toward a cleaner world.

The Battle of Beliefs and Actions

Several months ago, I visited the amazing New Orleans. After a long day of wandering around hearing wonderful Jazz, I desperately wanted to take a shower. I found that HI hostels decided to contribute to the environment by challenging guests to reduce their shower time.

As soon as guests step into the shower, they're greeted with a visual reminder to keep their shower "green" by limiting it to a 3-5 minute time frame. The lights in the shower will change as time passes, providing a visual representation of the amount of water being wasted. 

The hostel chain elegantly confronts guests with their own cognitive dissonance. We all like to think of ourselves as environmentally conscious, yet our actions may not always align with our beliefs. According to cognitive dissonance theory, when two ideas or actions are not psychologically aligned, individuals will try everything in their power to change them until they become consistent.

By challenging guests to reduce their shower time, HI hostels give them two options to resolve the dissonance: either take shorter showers or admit that they prioritize their own pleasure over protecting the environment.

The latter option is less desirable because of our tendency to prioritize maintaining high self-esteem. As a result, most guests will likely be nudged to align their actions with their beliefs by skipping the luxurious shower.

The Real Cure for Consumerism

Recycling isn't the true solution to consumerism; it's buying fewer products. "Free one day delivery" has become an Amazon core promise and the foundation of its brand. This branding capitalizes on our tendency to prioritize immediate rewards (like the bat and pumpkin garlands we order on October 30th) over future goals (keeping the environment safe) – also known as our present bias.

The free delivery service for Amazon Prime customers removes the incentive to consolidate orders, resulting in frequent deliveries to the same address. This not only increases costs for Amazon but negatively impacts our environment. To address this challenge, Amazon recently implemented a solution using – you guessed it – cognitive dissonance.

They brilliantly introduced a dilemma to all Prime customers after they selected their desired products. The thought-provoking choice confronts Prime users with a significant opportunity to make a real impact: They can either choose to succumb to present bias and buy what they want whenever they want or to opt for 'Fewer boxes, fewer trips,' contributing to a more sustainable approach by waiting a day or two for the product.

By consciously opting for the environmentally friendly option, users are encouraged to reevaluate their usual habits and contribute to a sustainable future. For the sake of feeling consistent with their popular pro-environment ideas, many Amazon Prime customers (myself included) will delay their orders.

By reducing the number of individual deliveries through this strategy, Amazon can help users fill in the intention-behavior gap and promote pro-environmental actions as well as decrease costs while significantly reducing carbon pollution. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Different Motivations to Stop Food Waste

Numerous restaurants discard significant amounts of fresh produce and prepared dishes at the end of each day due to inaccurate sales estimations. This wasted food, which could feed others, ends up in the trash, squandering valuable resources like land, water, and energy invested in its production.

‘Too Good to Go’ app connects customers to restaurants and stores with surplus food. That pizza place down the street that would otherwise toss their leftover Hawaiians at the end of the day can instead sell them for a discounted rate. The app provides a range of tailored incentives that resonate with different personas, making the app compelling to a diverse audience.

When it comes to decision-making, individuals are driven by a variety of factors. Too Good to Go recognizes and caters to these distinct intrinsic and extrinsic motivations throughout the user journey, ensuring user engagement that will lead to greater profits and minimal food waste.

Some users find value in saving money, while others crave the excitement of surprise packages or just want to save the planet. Within the app, users are provided with quantified metrics showcasing the return on investment (ROI) associated with their app usage, whether it's in terms of monetary savings or CO2e reduction.

These ROI metrics reinforce the varied motivations of users, whether its getting a discount or cutting down on food waste. By measuring impact in all its forms, Too Good to Go forges a stronger connection with app users – and gets them excited about grabbing an end-of-day food haul.

A Hopeful Future

As we navigate a world filled with both convenience and consequence, the power to drive change rests in the decisions we make each day. From the shower taps to the online checkout, our choices echo beyond immediate gratification, shaping the future of our planet.

It's through these small, significant nudges, guided by behavioral product design, that we unearth the potential to shift collective mindsets and practices. With each conscious decision, we sow the seeds for a more sustainable tomorrow.

About the Author

Yael Mark headshot

Yael Mark

Yael Mark is a seasoned product manager with a true passion for behavioral economics/science. In her works, Yael is focusing on implementing applicable behavioral theories to influence user adoption, enhance retention and elevate engagement  levels.

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