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Changing Behavior Through Policy
Jeremy Faludi, 4 May 05

In March, the British government unveiled its Sustainable Development website. Not a flashy affair, but has some useful information, like how the government's walking the talk and success-indicators, with desired targets. These success indicators include not only things like CO2 emissions, but targets for healthy diet, road accidents, and fuzzier measures such as "Satisfaction in local area" and "wellbeing"--proof that sustainability is officially (for the UK government, anyway) part of having high quality of life.

What I appreciated most about the site was the PDF on Changing behaviour through policy-making. As they quote,

"Information does not necessarily lead to increased awareness, and increased awareness does not necessarily lead to action. Information provision, whether through advertisements, leaflets or labelling, must be backed up by other approaches."

What are these approaches, according to the paper? They advocate a four-pronged strategy, with each prong acting in parallel to the others:

  • Enable (educate & retrain, provide facilities / infrastructure, provide viable alternatives)
  • Engage (organize community action, networking, evangelists)
  • Exemplify (lead by example, be self-consistent)
  • Encourage (financial incentives like taxes / rebates / fines / grants, social incentives like recognition)
  • Hopefully, in addition to each prong helping the cause, they will also synergize to create effects greater than the sum of their parts. Behavioral inertia is a tricky thing, but once overcome, large changes can happen at once. They draw an analogy to smoking--in the 1950's, 70% of Brits smoked, but after a few decades of this four-pronged approach the figure is down to 28% and no-smoking-in-public-places laws are being considered in many locations, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
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