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Ways technology can aid behaviour change to improve sustainability

Whether it be for healthier lifestyle choices or combating the climate crisis, technology can play a massive role in changing behaviours. Read our latest blog to find out how...



Behaviour change is such a valuable tool to use to create new habits, or positive changes. From quitting smoking to taking the first steps to live more sustainably, technology and behaviour change go together like beans on toast. The sky really is the limit when it comes to the kind of change technology can help facilitate.

Used ethically, it can tackle blood donation shortages in healthcare, or even go toe to toe in the climate crisis fight. The climate crisis will be the defining global issue of all of our lives. It affects ALL of us and all life on our planet. How we respond to the crisis will forever define our generation and have a long-lasting impact on future generations.

The good news is we are at an all-time high in human history when it comes to our understanding of behavioural science and innovation through technology. Technology can improve our societal and everyday activities and incentivise (nudge) people towards making planet-friendly changes.

But how does it work? How can technology help us adapt? How can you keep ethics at the heart of behaviour change? And what sort of changes should we make?

So many questions, but good news…we’ll soon get the answers! To help us with those questions, we have brought in world-leading climate scientist Professor Mark Maslin and multi-disciplined Design Director Rosie Isbell to guide our recommendations and observations. Next week, on June 29th, they will both be joining us to discuss behaviour and climate change and how we can make a positive impact together.

To get us all prepped and pumped for the event, we have put together a quick selection of three ways technology can help us change our behaviour to be more planet-friendly, and then following that, we’ve provided three ways we can all change to combat the climate crisis directly.

Let’s jump in!

3 ways technology can help us change our behaviour

Can we use carefully designed technology to nudge us in the right direction in these areas? The answer is YES! There are many ways that technology solutions, such as apps, can leverage behavioural science to nudge consumers and businesses towards making better choices more regularly.

Let’s run through a few examples.


1. Let’s make it personal

Personalisation is key. Humans naturally want to see how our own actions and behaviour impact the world, especially if we know it’s a positive impact. In the same way that people want to track their progress in the gym, or at work, or in other walks of life, it’s the same when it comes to sustainable or charitable behaviour.

A good example can be found in the blood donation app we created for the American Red Cross. One of the key features of the app is that donors can track their blood and see the hospital that it ends up at and when it has arrived. Being able to obtain this level of detail has been essential in encouraging donors to keep donating as they get to appreciate the lives they help save – providing a reminder that ordinary people do extraordinary things when they give blood.

This same principle can be applied to apps that give people personalised info on their carbon, land and water footprint. By showing a user the positive impact they are making by choosing more sustainable food, energy and travel options, we’re fuelling their motivation to be greener. On top of that, apps can provide tailored, targeted messages for each user, addressing their barriers and motives.

2. Remove the hassle

Simplicity is beautiful and enjoyable. So let’s make sure being sustainable is too. That’s where technology solutions and behavioural science is crucial; we can adapt our decision-making by default by making the default option the better option.

A real-world example of this can be seen with organ donation, which is has changed from opt-out to opt-in. If purchasing systems had in-built plugins or supporting apps that automatically give the most sustainable choice as the default, we would see far better results from a green point of view.

You could also see this working effectively with carbon offsetting – we would see a transformation in carbon offset rates if the offset option was the opt-out rather than opt-in option across airline booking platforms and holiday booking apps.

3. Presentation matters!

It really does make a BIG difference! How we present and offer options visually and financially makes a significant impact on buying decisions – that’s why companies spend so much money on visual merchandising and creative pricing strategies.

One of the most successful case studies to date is from The Economist magazine. The publication saw a large surge in their combined subscription offer (where you get both digital and print magazines) despite it being their most expensive offer. They did this by making their ‘print subscription’ and ‘print and online subscription’ the same price: $125 dollars.

Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University, tested this pricing strategy on 100 MIT students. He found that only 16 chose option A and the remaining 84 all chose option C. And of course, none chose option B.

In a follow-up test, where he removed option B, most students then chose option A (the online-only option) instead. The original middle option was crucial in influencing decision-making despite being an option that nobody chose. Humans naturally struggle to compare different options, but if you price two of the options similarly, but one offers significantly more, you can influence the choice heavily.

NOW is the time to apply these learnings to boosting sustainable behaviour. Let’s use our technology, purchasing platforms, apps, and pricing strategies to make the green option the ‘best option’ in consumers’ eyes.

So if we use technology to improve our behaviour, what sort of actual changes should we be
making? Well, we’re glad you asked… There are MANY ways, but to keep things simple, we’ve laid out three things you can do as a consumer or business to make a positive impact.

3 changes we can make to combat the climate crisis directly

1. Changing how we eat

What we choose to eat makes a massive impact on the world around us. The science is relatively simple: animal products (whether that’s meat or dairy) take far more land and water to produce and generate a lot more greenhouse gas emissions than plant foods. It’s for that reason why the United Nations and lifelong naturalist David Attenborough is urging us all to give up meat.

DA: ‘We must change our diet. The planet can’t support billions of meat-eaters’

The scientific evidence to back up Attenborough’s position is overwhelming. In fact, in 2018, a study from the University of Oxford found that avoiding meat and dairy is the ‘single biggest way‘ to reduce your impact on Earth.

2. Changing how we travel

This one is less surprising. We all know flying has a very high carbon footprint, hence why Greta Thunberg avoids planes at all costs. Of course, we’re not saying you should never ever fly – we know how the world works. But it is worth considering how often and necessary it is.

Does that meeting need to be in person? Can it be done on a video call instead? Or could you take the Eurostar to Paris instead of the plane? It’s worth a thought! Especially when you see the chart below. The Eurostar emits just 6g of CO2 emissions per passenger per km travelled… the emissions for flying look VERY different.

3. Changing our choice of energy source

Whether this is on a personal or business level, you should be asking yourself: “what type of energy are we using?” If your energy provider is dependent on fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas), then every time you use energy, that usage is making the climate crisis worse. One of the best steps you can take to address this is to switch to a renewable energy supplier. Not sure which one to choose? Check out this guide from Which?

So that’s that!

Easy peasy, right?! Small steps and tweaks to our routine and way of thinking really do have a massive impact, so get on with your bad self and go change the world!

Want to learn more? Make sure you join our behaviour change event with Professor Mark Maslin and Rosie Isbell next week! And if your company, NGO, or if you personally would like to get involved and collaborate, shout us a holla.

To stay up to date with future green-focused events, research findings, blog posts, future partnerships, and new services, make sure you’re following us on our social media channels.

Published on June 24, 2021, last updated on June 24, 2021

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