Behavioural Nudges and Environmental… | tutor2u Economics

Behavioural Nudges and Environmental Sustainability

Here are some notes on environmental nudges given at a talk I attended by two members of the Behavioural Insights team.

Environmental sector is traditionally rooted in conventional policy tools (solar panel incentives, emissions tests, campaigns et al)

There are big problems with trying to change people's minds - consider deeply embedded believes, attitudes, values - all affect behaviours

Many behavioural barriers to changing environmental change - confirmation bias, consistency bias, ego, denial, delusion, selective memory

Humans are better at rationalising than being rational

Kahneman - the environmental effects on behaviour are a lot strong than most people expect

Much of our decision making happens in system 1 of the dual-processing theory - we rely heavily on our intuition, mental short cuts, emotions, social influence, subtle cues and prompts

Weber-Fincher Law - we perceive magnitudes proportionally not linearly

East Framework for Nudging Behavioural Change

  • Easy
  • Attractive
  • Social
  • Timely


  • Defaults - e.g. auto enrolment for organ donation - everyone at birth is opted into an organ donation scheme
  • Simplify messages - tax return initiative - taking people directly to the form to fill out, using specialised container lids increases com;dance rates and reduces contaminates entering the recycling stream
  • Lower friction costs - substitution is easier than stopping a habit (think e-cigarettes)
  • Increase friction costs - 1998 - blister packs were introduced - making people pop individual pills before consumption - this has cut deaths from paracetamol by 43%
  • Increasing friction costs to cut food waste - an example is removing the tray makes people carry plates/cups etc. They eat less and waste less in part because of the inconvenience involved


  • Labelling food as vegetarian - meat-eaters have an easy heuristic to ignore the option - don’t label as exclusive
  • Ordering effects - top and bottom of ordering has disproportionate effects
  • Incentives: We over-weight our chance of winning in a large lottery - Chinese authorities printed lottery tickets on the back of retail receipts to reduce VAT evasion
  • Gamification of MRT commuting in Singapore - created credits to use in online gaming if you travelled at off-peak times - 7.5% cut in peak travel volumes


Social influences - music preferences heavily influenced by the number of downloads / consumer ratings on Amazon / Uber

  • Jury decisions influenced by social factors - group think (echoing the views of one or two dominant personalities)
  • "Nine out of ten people pay their taxes on time” - increased number of people who completed their tax returns on time
  • Messages on towels in hotel bathrooms


Prompting at the right moment can increase the effectiveness of nudges


  • More 29/39/49 year olds apply to run marathons and are active on online dating sites … imminent personal landmarks?
  • Reverse vending machines in China - get rid of a bottle and immediately get 10 pence off a train ticket
  • Target anti-smoking campaigns when there is a flu epidemic and people are aware of coughing / spluttering around them
  • Pre-ordering food in schools (implemented in schools in Dumfries and Galloway) - people make healthier choices
  • Get people to sign up for organ donation when they are renewing their tax disc

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