Can behavioural science help solve big problems? That’s the challenge BehaviourWorks has set itself, with the mission of tackling two key Sustainable Development Goals; Sustainable Consumption and Production (SGD 12) and Climate Action (SDG 13). With so many of BWA’s consortium partners sharing these areas of interest, it’s a collaboration that makes sense, and hopefully, a difference.
These ‘Missions’ are actually clear overarching goals for stakeholders to prioritise potential behaviour change challenges, and develop and trial behaviour change interventions, within two years. The Missions may seem giant in terms of sheer size, but they are intended to encourage bottom-up solutions to address big problems.
Big changes often start with grassroots activities.
Two of BWAs’ researchers, Kim Borg and Jenni Downes, are taking on the Mission around SDG 12; “To reduce per capita material resource consumption in Australia by 15% by 2030 while maintaining community wellbeing and economic resilience.” Where do you begin with something so big? Kim and Jenni started by identifying and engaging with a range of stakeholders with experience and expertise in material resource consumption and waste prevention. You then make a long list of behaviour change challenges for different audiences (knowing that consumers behave differently to manufacturers or retailers or governments at all levels), and you identify and prioritise the ‘low hanging fruit’ (high likelihood, short timeframe) along with the ‘shoot for the moon’ (high impact, high system reach) behaviours.
In this case, a number of ‘shoot for the moon’ and ‘low hanging fruit’ behaviours were identified in the area of responsible consumption of clothing, electronics, and furniture (which end up in landfill at an alarming rate). Getting manufacturers to design and make better electronics and furniture in terms of durability and re-use has high impact and system reach – shoot for the moon – but it’s a harder task, particularly for electronics where most manufacturing takes place overseas. The low hanging fruit; getting people to sell, donate, swap or acquire pre-owned fashion items, and getting them to sell or donate pre-owned furniture.
This is not necessarily about consuming less. While people will still need to acquire fashion, electronics, and furniture, they can be encouraged to choose good quality or pre-owned goods to ensure we’re getting the most out of the materials we use. It’s about avoiding taking material to landfill, by using what we have longer, sharing what we don’t use and designing items that can be recovered at the end of their life (by being easily repairable and disassembled).
From here, the aim is to develop multi-level interventions designed to have a ripple effect across different sectors. Can we change not only consumer behaviours, but retailers and manufacturers too? Can individual businesses help change industry groups? These are the questions being tested.
The whole program is broken into four phases:
1. Scoping and prioritisation (done)
2. Intervention co-design (now)
3. Trials (next)
4. Translation and communication to share results (future)
As we move further into Phase 2, intervention co-design, we’ll update the progress of this mission. In the meantime, you can find more information here.
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