Knowledge for better food systems

Behaviour change and consumerism

In April 2008, WWF published the extremely interesting Weathercocks and Signposts: The environment Movement at a Crossroad . The report critiques the current approach to achieving pro-environmental behavioural change strategies which stresses the importance of small and painless steps.
In April 2008, WWF published the extremely interesting Weathercocks and Signposts: The environment Movement at a Crossroad . The report critiques the current approach to achieving pro-environmental behavioural change strategies which stresses the importance of small and painless steps. The expectation tends to be that once they have embarked upon these steps, people will become motivated to engage in more significant behavioural changes. Often, these strategies place particular emphasis on the opportunities offered by ‘green consumption’ – either using marketing techniques to encourage the purchase of environmentally-friendly products, or applying such techniques more generally to create behavioural change even where there is no product involved. The report argues that while these marketing approaches (adopted both by NGOs and Govt) to creating behavioural change may be the most effective way of motivating specific change, on a piecemeal basis there is little evidence that they actually do lead to people making more significant changes. It argues that this current emphasis on ‘simple and painless steps’ may be a distraction from the approaches that will be needed to create more systemic change. Such emphasis also deflects campaign and communication resources from alternative approaches. Worse, emphasis on the opportunities offered by ‘green consumption’ distract attention from the fundamental problems inherent to consumerism. The report reviews arguments that the consumption of ever more goods and services is an inherent aspect of consumerism, and that the scale of environmental challenges we confront demands a systemic engagement with this problem. This report begins to build an alternative approach to motivating pro-environmental behavioural change, drawing not on analogies from marketing, but rather from political strategy. It is supported by recent work that underscores the importance of framing a political project in terms of the values that underpin this – rather than constantly moulding this project to reflect the results of the latest focus-group research. Research has found that many people have a more ‘inclusive’ sense of self-identity – one that may include closer identity with other people, or with other people and nature. These individuals thus tend to value others more in their behavioural choices, and research has repeatedly found that such people tend to care more about environmental problems, favour environmental protection over economic growth, and engage in more pro-environmental behaviour. The issue of how such values are nurtured and ‘activated’ is critically important. The report is attached below.
 

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