External Factors

1. Behavioural Affordances

Recycling Bins in Singapore Source:http://oliveventures.com.sg
Recycling Bins in Singapore

Behavioural affordances is behaviour that is enabled by the physical or social environment. To successfully foster good behaviour, we need to assess whether behaviours we are trying to promote are facilitated or hindered by the surrounding environment. Living sustainable would not be a feasible option if there is no infrastructure or materials to support it.

One example of this is when a person wishes to recycle to reduce waste. However, if there are no recycling bins or recycling services in the neighbourhood, that individual cannot recycle. Another example might be when someone wished to make the change from a petrol car to a hybrid car. If no hybrid cars are sold in the country, it is impossible for the individual to make the switch and save energy.

Hence, behavioural affordance should be congruent to the goal of sustainable behaviour.

2. Social Norms


Social norms are unspoken rules or expectations on how people behave in a certain context or society. It is one of the most influential factors in influencing behaviour as people like to conform. This is because people who conform are usually liked and accepted by other members of society, while people who deviate from the norm are usually disliked and even ostracized. Another reason is that people take behavioural cues from others. For those who lack knowledge, following others’ behaviours is a way of utilizing others’ knowledge for their own benefit.

Models can be used to bring about behavioural change as they serve as an examplar of a ‘norm’, especially if the model is attractive, an expert or possess influence. Mass media is an efficient tool to bring across models of norm behaviour to the general public.

3. Reinforcement contingencies

Reinforcement contingencies are imposing rewards or punishments as consequences of behaviour. Rewards are used to strengthen desired behaviour while punishments are used to decrease undesired behaviour. Generally rewards are more effective than punishments. Punishments may decrease undesired behaviour, however it may also pose certain problems. Firstly, people may find alternative ways to continue with the behaviour and avoid getting caught. Secondly, punishments may make people feel like they are being controlled too much hence it can increase hostility and resistance.

Reinforcement contingencies can be carried out by authorities through the use of taxes and laws. Laws can serve as both punishment and reward. Taxes increase the cost of an unsustainable behaviour to curtail it. However, this may backfire as people may instead consume more because they may think in terms of ‘economies of scale’. This means that people think consuming more would be more financially worthy than consuming a small amount for the hefty tax.

4. Incentives

Source: www.multifamilybiz.com
Source: www.multifamilybiz.com

Incentives serve as motivation to engage in a sustainable behaviour. Incentives are more effective when people can see the connection with the behaviour and when they are given these incentives at the time the behaviour occurs. For example, charging for plastic bags at the cashier when an individual is about to pay for purchases closely links the incentive and the behaviour as the individual is clearly aware of what behaviour he or she should engage in.

When giving incentives for curtailment behaviour, temporary incentives may not work as it has been shown that behaviour would revert back to the initial level occurring before the incentives were introduced if these incentives are stopped.

Also, the scale of incentive must be taken into consideration. The incentive must be large enough to motivate individuals, but at the same time it should not be too large so as to give an oppurtunity for individuals to realise their intrinsic attitude towards the behaviour. Following the previous example of charging for plastic bags at the cashier, plastic bags may be charged for only 5 cents each and when people decide to bring their own bags, they may start to think that they care about the environment to change because spending an extra 5 cents may not be enough to justify the behaviour change.

Besides monetory, social approval is also a form of an incentive and can even be more influential than money. In addition, social incentives may not suppress intrinsic behaviour as much as financial incentives. This may be due to the fact that people do not attribute their behaviour to receiving social approval because they have an opinion that social influence have least importance on self behaviour.

6. Prompts

Source: blog.lindsaywashere.com
Sign to remind people not to pollute the lake Source: blog.lindsaywashere.com

Prompts are reminders to engage in sustainable behaviour. People prominently do not have negative attitudes towards protecting the environment but they do need to be reminded on these pro-environmental behaviours. One example is putting up signs to remind people to recycle.

Prompts are more effective when they are framed or written in such a way that is in line with the target audience attitudes. For example, light use in a student residence was significantly reduced due to prompts that said “Flip off capitalist power.” which are relevant to the attitudes of these students.

Prompts should also not come off as demanding or controlling. According to the Psychological Theory of Reactance, blatant attempts at controlling behaviour may result in resistence (much like punishment)

7. Feedback

Feedback is needed so that individuals can track their success or failure in relation to their behaviour. For example, people who have decided to conserve more energy in their home would find it more beneficial if they received a lower utility bill congruent with their usage rather than receiving a flat rate.

Giving feedback provides an opportunity for people to improve or learn from their past behaviour.

8. Goals

Goal-setting gives people a motivation or a target to work towards. For example, utility companies can provide feedback and a goal usage for people to know how much they can improve on. It helps in setting up a plan for future sustainable behaviour.

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