A Balanced Approach to Behavior Change

When reading The Carbon Efficient City, one piece that resonated with me was the discussion of systematic behavior shifts in order to address climate change (Hurd and Hurd, 7). Through my internship at King County Metro Transit I work on a residential based program, In Motion, that encourages participants to shift their travel behavior from drive alone trips to other forms of transportation such as walk, bike, bus, carpool or telecommute. This behavior shift is addressed through social marketing tools, such as incentives, norming items (i.e. branded posters and pedometers) and trip logging of alternative modes of transit.

This bottom-up approach depends on participants shifting their individual travel habits. Groups of individual participants have the potential to lead to large-scale shifts if enough individuals changed their travel habits. While not as impactful at inception this bottom-up approach can create a long-term change in behavior. Behavior change becomes a choice instead of a mandate as in some top-down regulatory change. By allowing shifts in behavior to be a choice, an individual is able to better identify with the change and understand the shift will improve their life and possible the lives of those around them.

That said, the repercussions from climate change will not wait for majority of people to individually change their habits. A balanced approach could include both systematic and individual behavior changes. Some pressing items could be addressed through regulatory measures, while individual choice-based items could be addressed through smaller marketing or incentive-based (when needed) campaigns. This could be travel, buying environmentally friendly products or sustainable eating habits. By having an individual chose to change, they develop ownership and investment in the larger climate change issue and may be more likely to change other habits or encourage others to do so as well.

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