Swede reveals insights on how best to promote climate-friendly behaviour

Sure, everyone says they want to help the environment. But how to get people to actually do something about it? One Swedish researcher may have the answer.

Swede reveals insights on how best to promote climate-friendly behaviour
Photo: Pixabay

It’s hard to turn your head in Sweden these days without being greeted by messages promoting the importance of sustainability and protecting the environment.

On a national level, the government a new Climate Act came into force on January 1, 2018calling called for the country to have zero net emissions by 2045, in part by reducing transport sector emissions by 70 percent by 2030.

There was also an agreement to work toward achieving 100 percent renewable electricityby 2040 by promoting more solar energy, energy storage and more energy-efficient housing solutions.

And the city of Stockholm was one of the first cities to have its own climate action plan and has its own strategy to be fossil-free by 2040.

While government leadership is important in promoting climate-friendly policies, much of the responsibility for actually such goals lies with regular people and their own behaviours.

Old habits die hard, the saying goes — so what can be done to get the public to also adjust their actions in ways that help support Sweden’s broader climate policy goals?

Competition vs norms

One Swedish researcher at the University of Gothenburg has taken a closer look at how to best tackle the issue by comparing different methods to encourage people to adopt more climate-friendly behaviours.

In his research, Magnus Bergquist, a PhD candidate in the psychology department,tested several approaches aimed at increasing people’s environmentally-friendly behaviour.

He ran a total of nine experiments involving close to 2,000 participants comparing competition-based approaches with methods based more on social norms.

For part of the study, Bergquist conducted two online-experiments in which participants were performed pro-environmental tasks.

One set of participants were offered competition-based approach, being told they were part of a contest and could, for example, win a prize if they saved the most electricity in their neighbourhood.

Other participants were instead faced with an approach based on social norms where participants were told that 90 percent of others participating in the study believed that “energy conservation is positive”.

Bergquist’s research revealed that, while competition-based methods generated more initial engagement in new pro-environmental behaviours, the participants’ enthusiasm was short-lived.

'Spillover' effects

On the other hand, methods based on giving norms-based information about other people’s attitudes resulted in behaviour changes that were more long-lasting.

“A group tested using a competition-based method saved a lot of electricity initially, but after a week, their consumption was back at original levels,” says Bergquist.

“In the second group, with a norm-based method of influence, electricity consumption fell slower than in the ‘competition’ group. And here we also saw that the participants saved electricity for a long period of time.”

Bergquist’s research into the most effective climate behaviour influence methods also showed that norm-based methods appear to have a “spillover” effect.

“If you reduce electricity consumption, you might also start saving water, for example. This effect is not seen in competition-based methods,” Bergquist explains.

The Swede also found that not all social norms affect people’s behaviour to the same degree.

Avoiding risks, taking chances

In experiments comparing the effects of different social norms, he found that norms describing what other people choose to do away with have more influence than norms describing what people choose.

“A psychological explanation could be that people interpret others disapproval as they want to reduce the risk of something negative while others' active choices are interpreted as seeing a chance for something positive,” says Magnus Bergquist.

“And generally, people are more likely to avoid risks than taking chances.”

While Bergquist’s findings come from only one study, they may nevertheless be useful for policymakers in Sweden thinking about how to best encourages the public to choose behaviours that will help the country maintain its position as a leader in proactively combating climate change.

“The accelerating pace of climate change is jeopardising our future and that of our children. The relentless accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be stopped and rising global temperatures halted,” warns Stockholm Mayor Karin Wingårdh.

“Collaboration with residents, industry and commerce, academics and the regional forums and international contexts in which the city participates is essential to achieve the goals we have set.”


Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

Ronoh Philip, who is studying for his masters degree in Infectious Disease Control at Södertörn University, explains why he thinks the Swedish concept of 'lagom' is the best way to achieve good social health.

Lagom: The best way to achieve social health?

During my one week orientation program on August 2019 at Södertörn University, we were presented with many aspects of Swedish culture and practices. One of the new aspects that I learnt was the “lagom culture”, As I quote one of the presenters about applying lagom to our studies, he said: ”Lagom will reduce your stressful burdens of hectic lecture schedules and ensure that you spend equal time of working and socializing in the university.”

So being a student with a background in public health and society, I got interested and searched for the deeper meaning of lagom, and how it can  apply to society and health. I found out that it is a Swedish way of life, it is a concept which means not too much and not too little, just enough. I learnt that it came from a Viking tradition laget om which means 'around the group' and was allegedly used to describe just how much mead or soup one should drink when passing the bowl around in the group.

If this concept is applied to achieve social health goals, it would really fit well. So, what is social health at first? Social health is how you interact with other people and adapt in different situations, it deals with how people in society deal with each other. It is important to note that there is a close link between good social health and improvement of the other aspects of human health, this can lead to the achievement of SDG goal of good health and wellbeing. It also leads to self-satisfaction and happiness; no wonder Sweden is ranked as one the happiest countries in the world. It is ranked 7th in 2019, according to world happiness report. I believe lagom has a big role in this achievement.

In the country where I come from, Kenya, one of the greatest challenges we face in our society, is the ability for people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to interact and form positive and cohesive relationships with each other. From my perspective, when I finish my studies and return, lagom will be worth implementing in the workplace, the place where I live and the society as whole, as it is the best way of finding simple, attainable solutions to our everyday worries like stress, eating better, having downtime and achieving happiness. It’s a balance of work and life, so everything is in sustainable existence with each other.

My goal during my entire university studies at Södertörn, will be to learn more about the lagom principle and also be able to apply it on our SI NFGL Local Network platform, because it is surely one of the best ways to achieve a good  work-life balance, reaching consensus with my colleagues and adapting a team minded approach in dealing with issues in an organization and the society.