Increase compliance

Laws or regulations can fall short of their intended outcomes because people might believe that they are not enforced effectively or that sanctions for breaking them are insignificant.

Explore the behavioural techniques below to learn how you can increase compliance to environmental laws and regulations.

Increase visibility of non-compliant behaviour

Make citizens or businesses that do not abide by environmental laws or regulations accountable by publicly condemning them for their actions.

Social pressure can nudge people into changing their behaviour. Making disapproved behaviours visible to the public increases the 'social cost' of performing them. Although this technique can effectively encourage your target audience to comply with environmental laws or regulations, use it with caution as it can backfire and further strengthen their position.

For example, authorities can encourage citizens to switch to electric vehicles by requiring car manufacturers to add a permanent sticker on new petrol and diesel cars' windscreens that signals to others that they are highly polluting.


Case Study
Self-Reporting Carbon Emissions Leads to Regulation Compliance

Encouraging citizens and businesses to self-report emissions levels and sustainability practices can increase compliance with energy-efficiency policies.

A 1999 study identified that requiring firms to self-report pollution levels led to higher levels of compliance with pollution-related policies, even when the consequences of non-compliance were relatively minimal.

Making the undesirable behaviour publicly visible can lead to fewer instances of non-compliance.

Highlight what citizens or businesses can lose

In your communications, emphasise what citizens or businesses risk losing if they do not comply with pro-environmental laws or rules.

People tend to be strongly loss averse. In other words, they are more sensitive to potential losses than to possible gains. By drawing people's attention to what they might lose, you can encourage them to comply with your policy.

For example, informing building managers about the potential losses they can incur if they fail to meet energy efficiency standards (e.g., monetary fines; losing access to benefits) can be more effective than highlighting the benefits building managers can earn if they comply (e.g., better credit rating; appealing image).

Make the consequences of non-compliance notable

Make it visible to the public that citizens or businesses that have violated environmental laws or rules have been penalised.

Individuals tend to estimate the likelihood that a given event will happen based on how easily it comes to mind. Think about how you can make it easier for people to recall past cases where authorities successfully sanctioned offenders. Doing so will help people believe laws and regulations are enforced effectively and prompt them to comply.

For example, authorities can encourage businesses to comply with environmental laws and rules by informing them about the sum of money they collected from fines issued to offenders.

Present Non-Compliance as an Active Choice

Encourage citizens or businesses to comply with environmental laws and rules by framing the act of non-complying as an active choice.

People can often fail to adhere to a new law or regulation by passively sticking to their current course of action. Violating a law by inaction is often perceived as more acceptable than actively refusing to comply. To increase compliance, inform citizens or businesses that their failure to adhere to the law will be considered as an active choice and prompt them to consider the consequences of their actions.

For example, failing to install appliances that meet energy-efficiency standards can be framed in communications as actively choosing to violate guidelines, to spend more money on energy bills, and to emit more greenhouse gas emissions.


Case Study
Framing Flu Vaccination as an Active Choice Increases Jab Uptake

Prompting people to make an active choice between two options encourages them to select the more beneficial option rather than simply to select a default or easier option. The effect of this behavioural technique can be emphasised by making the consequences of the business-as-usual or less beneficial option more explicit.

A 2011 study investigated the effectiveness of enhanced active choice, which entails asking people to make a choice but making the consequences of the non-desired choice explicit. The effectiveness of the enhanced active choice approach was tested using flu vaccination uptake as the target behaviour. The researchers found that an active choice messaging approach was more effective than the opt-in approach, and that the enhanced active choice condition produced greater levels of compliance than the non-enhanced active choice method.

Highlight that most other citizens comply with the law

If a minority of citizens or businesses disregard environmental laws or rules, encourage them to comply by highlighting that the majority adheres to the laws and regulations.

People are strongly influenced by what others do and think and tend to conform to the social norm. However, they often have an incomplete and sometimes misleading view of what others do or think. Informing people about the social norm can help them readjust and align their thoughts and behaviours with that of the majority. This approach can be particularly effective if you use a reference group that your target audience considers relatable.

For example, if businesses in the catering industry are required to adhere to new environmental standards, inform those that are not compliant that most businesses do follow the regulations. Suppose that you are targeting coffee shops in Leeds specifically. In that case, communicating that "85% of coffee shops in Leeds adhere to new environmental standards'' is likely to be more effective than saying "85% of businesses adhere to new environmental standards."


Case Study
Social Norms-Based Reminders Can Bolster Tax Compliance

A 2016 study conducted in partnership with The Behaviouralist assessed the effect of social norms messaging on tax compliance.

An experiment was conducted to evaluate the impact of standard reminder letters against letters that incorporated social norms-based messaging. It was observed that social norms-based reminders were significantly more effective at prompting overdue tax payments than the standard reminder letters.

Social norms messaging can be an effective tool for boosting compliance with your policy or programme.