Forming sustainable habits is good for the planet


With the arrival of March 30, the International Day of Zero Waste, comes the age–old question: how can we act more sustainably?

Murdoch University’s Dr Sonja Geiger says if you want to behave more sustainably in your everyday life, look to the people you know and love and keep it simple. 

As an environmental psychologist, Dr Geiger explores the mentality behind pro-environmental actions, including recycling and living low-waste. 

Two key influences according to Dr Geiger are social norms and accessibility.  

A social norm is a very strong predictor, especially with people you know and who are important to you,” Dr Geiger said.  

“Observing the behaviour of others does two things – it shows the preferred norm in a circle of people - ‘this is how things are done around here’ - but it also tells you you’re not alone in an endeavour, and as such, strengthens collective efficacy.” 

With social norms comes building habits, and Dr Geiger said habits were formidable allies.  

“Habits are very powerful influences on sustainable behaviour, especially in the high frequency/daily behaviours such as transport and food choices.” 

Dr Geiger said simplicity was a principle of nudging towards sustainability, making desired behaviour as easy as possible to perform.  

Something as small as using a bigger indoor bin for recycling and a smaller one for general waste can communicate the expected volume of recyclable things.  

Some examples of what Dr Geiger called ‘joyful nudging’ for the whole family, included making competitions to throw rubbish in the right bin or creating a musical response (such as singing a song or ringing a bell) for when objects were in the right place. 

The last method of nudging that Dr Geiger said was an incentive for sustainability was feedback on the usefulness of the behaviour. 

“How many emissions are saved by the correct recycling? How many marine animals become less threatened? How does it help you directly?”  

Dr Geiger’s previous research has explored methods such as virtual reality to inform and create environmental empathy among focus groups.  

She said she hoped to conduct future research into whether increased connectedness to nature would lead to a long-term shift towards pro-environmental behaviour.  

Feature image by Noah Buscher via Unsplash.

Learn more about Murdoch University's commitment to Sustainability
Posted on:

29 Mar 2024



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