Use Positive Social Influence

Citizens or businesses inclined to cut down on their emissions might be discouraged by thinking that others do not care about reducing their carbon footprint.

Explore the techniques below that you can use to leverage positive social influence and improve compliance with your policy or programme.

Correct citizens’ beliefs about what others believe or do

Find ways to update and correct peoples' beliefs by informing them about what most other citizens actually do and think. Individuals may be reluctant to engage in energy-efficient behaviours because they misperceive how others are responding to the policy or programme.

First, conduct surveys and qualitative interviews to understand perceived social norms concerning the behaviour or programme that you are trying to promote. If your data then suggest that people believe that public approval of the behaviour in question is lower than it actually is, you should design communications to correct these misperceptions.


Case Study
Highlight Expert Consensus to Boost Climate Change Beliefs

Though scientists agree that climate change is primarily driven by human activity, there is doubt among much of the population about both the existence of climate change and the impact of human behaviour.

A study conducted in the U.S. found that making the public aware of scientific consensus concerning climate change significantly increased people's personal beliefs that climate change is a real threat. This change in personal beliefs, in turn, led to an increased support of the U.S. government to take action to reduce the country’s emissions.

Emphasising expert consensus can increase individuals' beliefs in climate change and other critical issues.

Demonstrate that others engage in the desired behaviour

When the majority of people are already performing a desired behaviour, highlight this trend in communications.

Individuals may not be aware that many of their peers are already adopting energy-efficient behaviours; therefore, you should inform those who have not yet adopted the target behaviour of this pattern. Drawing citizens' attention to the social norm can make the goal behaviour more salient and enticing.


Case Study
Using Local Comparisons to Reduce Homeowners' Energy Consumption

The American utility company OPower sends households reports, which indicate how a home's energy usage compares to that of similar neighbours. A recent investigation found that informing individuals' about how their consumption compares to others' effectively leads to an estimated 2.0% reduction in domestic energy usage.

Social norms-based messaging can be used to shift consumptive behaviour to be more sustainable.

Highlight shifting positive trends

When a growing number of individuals engage in energy-efficient behaviours, you can encourage others to conform to this trend by highlighting that a social shift is underway.

People tend to be sensitive to signals that convey current or emerging social norms. Examples of communications highlighting a positive social change include 'More and more citizens are switching from boilers to heat pumps this year' or 'An increasing number of employees cycle to work at least once a week.' If the policy or programme involves a behaviour that is becoming more popular, simply highlighting this pattern can speed up adoption of the behaviour.


Case Study
Dynamic Norms Reduce Meat Consumption

A recent investigation considered how dynamic norms can shift individuals' behaviour regarding meat consumption. The study evaluated the effect of dynamic norms messaging that stated, "Americans have now started to make an effort to limit their meat consumption."

The researchers found that dynamic norms-based messaging about reducing meat consumption made participants more interested in reducing their meat consumption, even though consuming meat is a prevailing static (unchanging) norm in the United States.

Informing people about how others' behaviour is changing can effectively shift behaviour within the target population.

Choose the right messenger to promote the policy

Identify individuals or institutions that are respected by your target audience and engage these figures in promoting the target behaviour.

Engaging respected figures to voice their support for the policy can build trust and compliance with the given policy. For example, involving climate scientists and religious figures, as well as local community members, friends, and family in the communication can build support for the targeted energy-efficient behaviours in a given community.


Case Study
Using Personal Narratives Promotes Engagement in Climate Change Prevention

Personal stories can be powerful tools to promote policies that help reduce emissions and address climate change.

Two experiments found that broadcasting short radio stories in which U.S. citizens talk about how climate change has personally affected them elicited feelings of compassion and worry among the listeners. This in turn had a positive effect on global warming beliefs and perceived seriousness of climate change.

Overall, the study suggests that using personal stories can be an effective persuasion strategy to promote environmental action.

Consider more coercive measures to shift behaviour

Seek public consultation to identify obstacles that may hinder public acceptance of the policy or programme. For example, industries may be reluctant to adapt to newly proposed environmental standards because compliance requires significant upfront investments, which the companies cannot afford.

If there are no hard barriers in the way of the desired behaviour but public compliance remains low, change the incentive structures or apply more coercive measures, such as providing higher rewards or imposing stronger sanctions on those who do not comply with the policy.