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    Nov 2022
    Written by Conrad Tuckey

    The power of positive thinking: Behavioural insights and effective sustainability strategies

    To protect the environment, it is important that we understand not only our dependencies and impacts on nature but also how we behave in relation to nature. For instance, we often do not see the impacts of our actions on the environment so do not always choose the option with the best environmental outcomes. 

    ‘Behavioural insights’ is an approach to policymaking using empirical evidence on how people make choices. It has played an important role in areas such as personal health and finance, helping policymakers produce more effective policies and communications. In addition to this, behavioural insights has the potential to improve how we promote sustainability. 

    For example, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) supports global economic progress with the use of behavioural insights in public policy. It provides resources to practitioners and the European Commission, which also has a Competence Centre on Behavioural Insights that works to provide evidence on human behaviour. 

    Designing strategies and action plans 

    People are central to strategies and organisational systems, so designing these around our behaviour is important: just being aware of biases does not eliminate them. An example of this is that people have a preference towards instant gratification. This means that although we may set an ambitious target in the future, it can be easy to delay action when it has a more immediate cost, which undermines our ability to meet these targets on time. 

    This is why commitment devices – things that lock us into a plan of action – are important. A commonly referenced study found that we perform better when we have deadlines with intermediate targets that are enforced by an independent body rather than self-set deadlines that have only an end goal. 

    This can be applied to business sustainability targets: consider setting incremental deadlines for sustainability targets to reach a goal. Taking a pledge with an independent organisation, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Business and Biodiversity Pledge, acts as a commitment device; these often provide direct benefits to your own organisation, such as access to a supportive network of other businesses, and keep your company accountable. Other commitment devices could include setting science-based targets (SBT) for climate and nature or following the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework. 

    Communicating strategy 

    How we frame the information we present is important in determining how people react, which is a crucial consideration when communicating your sustainability strategy. People are generally driven by common principles. We like to minimise risk and maximise certainty, appreciate honesty and authenticity and hold key values. Your sustainability strategy will be better received by stakeholders if you communicate from your values and vision upwards, with support from facts and figures, rather than from the numbers downwards. Developing a theory of change for your sustainability strategy can be an effective framework for capturing and communicating your vision and how you plan to get there. This is a visual representation of the connections among organisational outcomes, outputs and inputs. Ultimately, society is moving towards requiring that businesses are not just addressing sustainability issues out of obligation to meet government targets, but instead demonstrating their responsibility to society and supporting long-term security and prosperity. For instance, framing the use of renewable energy as the best use of our natural resources and offering greater energy security is more engaging than presenting it as a necessary step to reduce the business’s carbon footprint by 30% by 2030. 

    How we can help 

    Want support on your sustainability strategies or managing sustainable transformation in your business? Nature Positive offers a range of services (including working with you to create theories of change and behavioural insights to give your sustainability strategies more traction) that can be tailored to suit your business. Contact us to find out more.

    *Banner image by Tony Reid on Unsplash