Ideas and Solutions on How to Save the Environment Using Science

I’m no environmentalist by any stretch of the imagination but here I am, writing my second post about the environment (my first one being about why recycling isn’t good for the environment.)

Science really changes people, doesn’t it? Or at the very least makes them more aware of how science can be used to benefit the world.

After all, there are two ways you can use psychology.

You can either manipulate people for your own benefit like pretty much all companies do to make you buy their stuff.

Or you can manipulate people for their own benefit like building addictive but educational products or using our inherent psychological biases to change how we treat our planet.

Today we’ll be talking about the latter, shinier side of the coin.

Using science to save the planet

Psychologists and behavioural economists know all about our biases, our psychological tendencies, and the consistent errors that we make because of them.

And this is why science can be used to hack our minds and instigate change for the better good.

But the only way to hack our minds is by changing the things in our immediate environment.

After all, our environment shapes the way we think.

A wonderful Edge talk with Darwinian philosopher Helena Cronin has a telling excerpt on the topic:

Natural selection equipped us with the fixed rules — the rules that constitute our human nature. And it designed those rules to generate behaviour that’s sensitive to the environment.

So, the answer to ‘genetic determinism’ is simple. If you want to change behaviour, just change the environment. And, of course, to know which changes would be appropriate and effective, you have to know those Darwinian rules. You need only to understand human nature, not to change it.

So how do we save us from ourselves and help us change to ultimately save the environment?

Elke Weber from the Centre for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University has come up with a few solutions.

1. Gotta have faith in future benefits

Building anything that’s good for the environment or switching to more environmentally friendly solutions costs money.

And because of the costs, environmentally friendly actions seem terribly painful.

On top of that, the benefits of these solutions are uncertain, mostly because the benefits come over time and in dribbles. That, and also uncertainty snowballs into a greater and greater beast the more you look into the future.

But we also have an innate tendency of delay discounting in that we overvalue smaller, short-term rewards and undervalue larger, more long-term rewards.

But we just have got to have the faith that if we spend more now for eco-friendly stuff, we will most definitely see the future generations benefit for many many years.

Let’s just keep the faith.

2. Don’t guilt-trip

Guilt-focused messages are great to attract attention but are awful in maintaining that attention.

Though people might even feel some guilt, they just hide their head in the sand and pretend the messages aren’t there anymore. This is sort of behaviour is called the Ostrich Effect.

Nobody likes negative mood states so naturally such messages will be avoided.

3. Give architects the power

Let’s face it, architects and engineers play a huge part in what is in our environment and what it looks like.

They are the major influential decision makers and we should empower them even more.

Empower to do what exactly?

To design more sustainable infrastructure and buildings.

How would we go about doing this?

It’s no secret that humans respond well to incentives and the virtuosos behind pointy skyscrapers and modern glassy buildings are no different.

One way to incentivise architects, engineers, contractors and other groups who design and build infrastructure would be to grade and reward more environmentally friendly building projects.

For instance, projects that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve the habitats of wildlife would be rated higher than projects that emit toxic smoky plumes into our air.

So if architects and engineers are rewarded for their eco-friendly buildings on a particular rating system, it is likely that this would in turn lead to more prestigious tenants occupying these spaces which only perpetuates the prestige of such buildings.

Of course, planning tools such as the Envision rating system already takes care of this aspect. But three decades-worth of behavioural research suggests this system could be improved upon using scientific insight.

4. Play on architect’s aversion to loss

But the point is that humans are loss averse meaning that they want to limit experiencing loss as much as possible.

If we have a system in place that rewards architects and engineers to build eco-friendly buildings, then the architects and engineers that don’t do that will lose a lot of reputation and stature.

So they’ll avoid practices that will have a negative impact on their professional careers.

5. Careful labelling

We have a knee jerk reaction to certain labels.

For instance, we wouldn’t react positively to the label of ‘carbon taxes.’

But if we frame them as ‘carbon offset’ labels, then these labels seem more palpable.

More palpable labels are the way to go.

6. Nudge to use energy efficient light bulbs

Nudging is basically incentivising people to perform a new behaviour by using psychological sorcery.

One way to get people/tenants to choose and use CFL energy-saving light bulbs over less energy efficient lightbulbs would be for architects and engineers to build buildings that can only use eco-friendly lightbulbs.

Then you’re pretty much forced to use CFLs!

7. Shift attention to the future

As humans, we are by default pretty selfish.

We care most about our own present wants and needs and perhaps that’s the reason why we need these sort of environmental solutions in the first place.

But science has shown time and again that we do have other-regarding preferences, meaning that we can be quite selfless and look out for others.

However, these preferences aren’t at the forefront of our value hierarchy.

One way to tap into this selfless attitude would be to induce legacy motivations where it’s not about us anymore but about the future and leaving a sound legacy for the future generations.

Closing thoughts

A lot of money is invested into training experts, scientists, behavioural economists only for the main decision makers to ignore them in the end.

They have all the tools.

Listen to them.

It’ll do the world some good.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

Still curious? Check out some more resources here.

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How to Stop Roommates From Using Your Stuff

I want to share a pretty cool psychology experiment with you, you’ll love it because the insight you’ll learn will be able to help you fend off your roommates or dormmates from using your stuff.

Your pans, your bowls, your stapler etc.

I know, infuriating when they use them without asking, even more so if they use them and don’t clean up and just leave them lying around dirty, the bowls and pans at least.

On to the experiment then.

The experiment

Dan Ariely, renowned behavioural economist and author of great books like Predictably Irrational, slipped in to the dorms at MIT as part of the experiment and, floor by floor, planted a six-pack of Coke in all of the shared refrigerators he could find.

Over the next few days he would return to the fridges and check on the cans, keeping a diary of how many of them remained in the fridge.

Within 72 hours, every one of the cans of Coke disappeared.

The money however remained untouched for 72 hours until Ariely removed the cast from the refrigerators.

Is there an explanation for this?

Yes.

But before we delve into that, Ariely asks you to imagine the following to put things into perspective:

“Suppose there are no red pencils at work, but you can buy one downstairs for a dime. And the petty cash box in your office has been left open, and no one is around. Would you take 10 cents from the petty cash box to buy the red pencil? Suppose you didn’t have any change and needed the 10 cents. Would you feel comfortable taking it? Would that be OK?”

I’m not going to pretend that it wouldn’t be super easy to just take the red pencil and keep the 10 cents so let’s just skip to Dan’s conclusion:

“When we look at the world around us, much of the dishonesty we see involves cheating that is one step removed from cash. Companies cheat with their accounting practices; executives cheat by using backdated stock options; lobbyists cheat by underwriting parties for politicians; drug companies cheat by sending doctors and their wives off on posh vacations. To be sure, these people don’t cheat with cold cash (except occasionally). And that’s my points: cheating is a lot easier when it’s a step removed from money.

How you can use this insight to your advantage

In his other book Behavioural Economics Saved My Dog, Dan recounts how a reader of his, or rather a friend of that reader, used this scientific insight to his advantage:

“My friend said that in his workplace items such as staplers, tape dispensers, and so on used to be constantly taken from his desk. He then glued a coin onto each piece, and no one has taken anything with a coin on it in five years. Does this fit with your findings?”

Dan commented the following in response:

“This is exactly the point. It turns out that we can rationalise lots of our bad behaviours, and the more distant they are from cash the simpler it is for us to rationalise them. What your friend has done by sticking money to the items it to make it clear that borrowing the office supplies without returning them is not just about the office supplies, it is also about stealing cash. And with this reframing he made the action more morally questionable in the minds of the potential thieves.”

Closing thoughts

So you now know you can stick money on your personal belongings to keep people you live with from using your stuff.

Life is all about quick wins, isn’t it.

But I also hope that you’ve learnt something about the predictability of human psychology and how it can work in funny ways sometimes.

And that the explanations for the strange inner workings of our minds actually make a lot of sense, a lot of the time.

I just want to leave you with a final thought or two.

I realised that whenever I go to Sainsbury’s and use my Nectar card, I will always get a coupon with some sort of discount on some of my most frequent past purchases, like a discount for a bag of spinach I often buy, or triple Nectar points on my next shop, or £2 off when I spend £20 on my next shop.

A lot of the time though, I see people pay for their shopping but leave their freshly printed coupons behind…

I think you know where this is going.

Because sometimes these coupons are essentially free money (i.e. “£2 off on your next shop” coupon) – if you use someone else’s coupon to get a discount, are you stealing from Sainsbury’s?

Is it wrong to use that coupon and get £2 off your shop?

After all, it is one step removed from cash…

Well what if you had the opportunity to steal £2 in cash from a cashier in Sainsbury’s and used that to buy your shop?

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts…

Final thought with a different twist:

If you have a job and you’re getting paid X thousand pounds a year for your efforts – is that money just one step removed from slavery?

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

Why Recycling Isn’t Good for the Environment

Remember what Mr Miyagi said about balance?

Mr. Miyagi: You remember lesson about balance?
Daniel: Yeah.
Mr. Miyagi: Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?

The Karate Kid (1984)

Life is all about balance.

Perfect balance is what you find in the exact middle of the spectrum, in between one extreme and another.

Between work and play.

Homeostasis.

This lesson about balance can inform us why recycling might not be the best solution to our environmental woes.

Is recycling actually a bad idea?

The environmentalist will say that recycling is good for the environment. You reuse resources such as paper and that means that less trees will get cut down.

On the other hand, the office that hasn’t gone green and isn’t recycling is wasting resources.

S. Landsberg says that if you recycle too much paper, trees won’t get chopped down, and forests will shrink.

“Environmentalists can quote reams of statistics on the importance of trees and then jump to the conclusion that recycling paper is a good idea. But the opposite conclusion makes equal sense. I am sure that if we found a way to recycle beef, the population of cattle would go down, not up. If you want ranchers to keep a lot of cattle, you should eat a lot of beef. Recycling paper eliminates the incentive for paper companies to plant more trees and can cause forests to shrink. If you want large forests, your best strategy might be to use paper as wastefully as possible-or lobby for subsidies to the logging industry.” 

Following the logic of the above statement, if everybody was an environmentalist, we’d all go green and that would be a problem.

Conversely, if everybody wasted paper, that would also be a problem.

It looks like there has to be a balance between recycling paper and wasting paper.

In actuality, the ongoing tension between environmentalists and anti-environmentalists is wherein the nugget of wisdom lies.

Paper conservers are the yin to the yang of paper wasters.

Without either side passionately fighting for their ideology – there would be no balance.

What pesticides can teach us about balance

Turns out that pesticides can have harmful effects on our health.

But if we were to stop using pesticides on fruit, for example, then there’d be less fruit for people to eat which would also be bad for our health.

Landsberg credits this observation to biologist Bruce Ames:

“Environmentalists call on us to ban carcinogenic pesticides. They choose to overlook the consequence that when pesticides are banned, fruits and vegetables become more expensive, people eat fewer of them, and cancer rate consequently rise.”

You have to strike a fine balance between using pesticides and refraining from using them.

If you’re really bothered about pesticides on food, going organic is a great option. No point cutting corners on the food you eat to fuel your most precious asset – your body.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

Ideas on How to Get Students to Return Overdue Library Books

When you borrow a ‘7-day loan’ book from the university library and fail to return it before the 7 days are up, you are forced to pay a fine of 50 pence for every day that the book is overdue.

The crux of the issue is exactly what we’ve been talking about a second ago.

If someone wanted to keep a book for longer that 7 days, all he had to do was pay a small, petty fine of 50p a day and v’oila! he bought himself some extra time.

And just like that, gone are the times of experiencing guilt for holding on to an eagerly sought out book at the expense of someone else’s intellectual enterprise and education.

The whole thing is ruled by market norms now.

50p isn’t much of a fine

But the thing with paying just 50p is misleading and takes advantage of an inherent psychological tendency that we all have.

This is how libraries earn their money for “new books”.

This natural tendency is called delay discounting which is the process of devaluing future outcomes. You can read more about that here.

Essentially, paying 50p a day is chickenfeed to most people.

But 50p on day 1 turns into £1 into £1.50 and so on…

Hold on to a book for 10 days and you have to pay £5. Then you’re thinking – where’d that fine come from?!

Funnily enough, £5 turns out to be 1/8 of the price of a new copy of that very book you’ve been nursing for ages.

We don’t care about other people, only about ourselves

Let’s face it, we’re egocentric and tend to be selfish.

On the other hand though, we’re not purely motivated by self-interest.

Behavioural research shows that we do exhibit other-regarding preferences in that we factor in other people’s interests in our decision-making.

But these preferences aren’t at the forefront of our value hierarchy.

Sad but true.

BUT!

There is a solution.

A solution that would make people focus on the needs of others…

And it’s been around for millenia.

That solution is to instil feelings of guilt.

People are egocentric and look for their benefit but guilt has always been able to inspire at least a modicum of regard in those who have strayed off the path of righteousness (getting carried away here but you get the point.)

So if libraries want to help a student out, it has to be better at instilling guilt in students that are taking the mick.

How?

 How to instil guilt back

Social norms

Norms are important because they’re unspoken promises we make to people in our immediate social circle.

In the good ol’ days, if someone was a deviant in the social circle, he’d be banished or killed.

So to make the student feel compelled to bring the book back (bring the bloody book back, Russell!), we need to make him realise he’s a deviant in accordance to the unspoken laws/norms that govern every student.

Sure, sure, he probably knows this already, but we need that thought to be in the forefront of his consciousness.

So send him an email which reads something along the lines of:

99% of people give the books back on time – would you like it if someone did that to you?

This informs the person of the norm (i.e. how the majority acts = norm) and plays on their emotions a bit…

This ties in with the second point:

Empathy

A big theme here is to introduce empathetic imagination by putting them in the shoes of the people that are worse of for someone not bringing an overdue library book back (damnit, Russell!)

Another example that would play on empathy would be:

Please return the book as overdue books disadvantage students in their revision.

What would be even better would be to put that sentence in red.

Red attract attention and assigns urgency.

By the same token though, a lot of students don’t check these library emails and give in to the ostrich effect. Basically, they hide their head in the sand and avoid the issue (don’t you dare, Russell…)

But if you include in the email that “you could save X amount of money for returning the book on time” in the subject line, you might just get them to open the email after all.

Higher fees

Students taking the mick oftentimes don’t mind paying 50 pence a day for an overdue book.

Let’s face it – it’s a small price to pay for being daft.

So what about compounding the fines over time?

On day 1, the fine is 50p but on day 2 the fine increases to £1 etc.

Another thought: what about exorbitant fees?

Nobody wants to pay super high fees for a measly, chewed-up, dog-earred, nineth-hand book, right?

But this could have some unintentional effects, like encouraging malpractice where the students with the overdue books wouldn’t even bother paying the fines, returning the books, and would just vanish from the face of the Earth.

 

Making them experience the negative experience of holding overdue books

What about giving deceiving them into thinking that the book was overdue so that they experience the negative affect and feel like a criminal before telling them that you were joking but also add “but seriously – don’t forget to bring the book back on time yeah.”

Obviously this would raise “ethical questions” due to the deception used (still a thought, though…)

Make paying off fines a unpleasant experience

When paying off their library fines, sometimes people with overdue books rationalise that “well at least I’m helping the library with my money.”

It’s this rationalisation that doesn’t deter them from similar transgressions in the future.

So how would one go about making sure this rationalisation isn’t conjured up?

What about setting fire or shredding the money they use to pay for their fines?

Parting with hard, cold cash can be difficult, especially if you’re paying off library fees.

What if a student paying off his fines were to insert a note into a machine only to receive a fake shredded note in response?

They wouldn’t be able to rationalise that the money was going to a good cause (i.e. library) but rather was wasted because of someone’s laziness…

You could argue this puts a lot of undue stress on the student who is paying the fine. But once he’s parted with the money – what difference does it make what happens to the money?

After all – he’s parted with it and it’s no longer his.

But the downside is that no actual money is exchanged (i.e. it is taken off your student card).

I guess cash is slowly becoming archaic (not to mention unsanitary.)

Plus, now you’ve got machines where you can return your books back, so you aren’t able to experience any walk of shame as you would if you had to return the overdue books to a member of the library staff.

Trying to compromise and be on their side

Okay, the past two ideas were a bit “out there” so how about something that would be more ethically sound?

Like trying to be on their side and offer them an easy way out.

In the email remind him of the overdue book, you could write something like this in it:

“You can quietly come to school to give it back, no one will know…”

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

***

Thank you to S. Reimers for brainstorming these ideas with me. Obviously some were more on the jokey side while other more legitimate but overall it was a fun intellectual exercise I fondly look back on.

 

The Two Worlds We Live In

 

In his seminal book “Predictably Irrational”, behavioural economist Dan Ariely describes how we live in two worlds: one is governed by social exchanges and the other is characterised by market exchanges.

He emphasises that different rules apply to each of these two very different worlds.

For instance, imagine that your friend invites you to a party and you end up having so much fun that you decide to pay your friend for all the expenses it took to organise the thing.

How do you think your friend would react?

Such good deeds don’t come at a price.

The very act of offering to pay for them (i.e. placing a price tag on them) transitions the relationship with your friend from a social exchange to one governed by market norms.

In other words, by proposing such a thing, you’ve introduced market norms into a social exchange.

You’ve changed the dynamic of the social relationship and most likely even hurt it by negating the very foundation it was built upon in the first place i.e. intangible qualities such as trust, loyalty, kindness.

Social contract vs. market exchange

In his book, Ariely mentions an experiment conducted by researchers Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini where the long term effects of introducing market norms into a social relationship could be recognised.

The researchers studied a daycare centre in Israel where they imposed fines for parents who were late in picking up their children.

From a behaviourist standpoint, it makes sense: if you want to reduce the frequency of a behaviour, you have to impose some sort of punishment to do so.

After all, world-renowned behaviourist B.F Skinner would reduce a rat’s button-pressing behaviour by simply shocking it. This is called negative reinforcement and it reduces the frequency of an undesirable behaviour.

However, upon introducing these fines, the situation hadn’t got better. Parents continued to be late in picking up their children. In fact, they were even more late than ever before.

How could this be?

Well, before the fine was introduced, the relationship between the caretaker at the daycare centre and the parents of the children operated within a world based on social exchanges.

Whenever the parents were late, their sense of guilt was so great that it increased their compliance to avoid being late.

But now that the fines were introduced, the dynamic of the social relationship had changed. The parents began to interpret the social exchange in terms of market norms.

They could now choose to be either a) early and not pay, or b) late and pay, say £2. They could literally buy themselves some time by paying the fine, absolving themselves of any guilt in the process, living in the conviction that it’s okay to be late as long as you pay up.

The relationship had moved from an implicit social contract to one dictated by market norms.

No going back

What happened when the fines were removed? Did the relationship between caretaker and parent return to one that was based on a social norms?

Here’s what Dan says about that:

“The most interesting part occurred a few weeks later, when the day care center removed the fine. Now the center was back to the social norm.

Would the parents also return to the social norm? Would their guilt return as well? Not at all. Once the fine was removed, the behavior of the parents didn’t change.

They continued to pick up their kids late. In fact, when the fine was removed, there was a slight increase in the number of tardy pickups (after all, both the social norms and the fine had been removed).”

This experiment illustrates an unfortunate fact: when a social norm collides with a market norm, the social norm goes away for a long time. In other words, social relationships are not easy to reestablish.

Once the bloom is off the rose — once a social norm is trumped by a market norm — it will rarely return.”

Lead and Be Strong In Your Decision-making

Being strong and firm in your choices and decisions is a valuable skill to master.

It is a skill because in a world that is abundant with options, it can be really difficult to a) choose in the first place, b) be confident that the choice you made is the right one, and c) stick with your decision once you’ve made it and not “flake” on it.

Perhaps more importantly, an opportunity cost of deciding is time and there’s always another option where you could spend it better, spend it elsewhere, or simply to save it.

Because time is indeed a precious resource.

You have probably noticed how the importance of time trickles into and manifests itself in everyday language.

You spend time with people.

You try to find time.

People who would like some of your time ask politely whether you have a moment to spare?

There is no time like the present, so why waste it on trying to decide?

As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice puts it:

“Time spent dealing with a choice is time taken away from being a good friend, a good spouse, a good parent, and a good congregant.”

You also expend precious mental resources when trying to decide.

In my earlier posts on willpower, you will realise that using up your willpower and decision-making capabilities on one decision means you will have less to use for the other decision.

That’s why Barry urges us to:

“learn to be selective in exercising our choices. We must decide, individually when choice really matters and focus our energies there, even if it means letting many other opportunities pass us by. The choice of when to be a chooser may be the most important choice we have to make.”

And it’s not just trying to make a decision that uses up your willpower, merely thinking about making the decision will have the same effect.

The problem of abundant choice in the world rears its ugly head in the most inconspicuous of situations.

Like on a night out.

In his book Behavioral Economics Saved My Dog, behavioural economist Dan Ariely tackles this topic and comes up with a decent solution.

“When someone asks what do you want to do tonight?, what they are implicitly saying is: What is the most exciting thing we can do tonight, given all the options and all the people involved?

The problem is that figuring out the absolute best solution (the optimal solution) is very difficult.

First, we need to bring to mind all the possible alternatives; next we need to work out our preferences and the preferences of all the people in the group.

Then we have to find the one activity that will maximise this set of constraints and preferences.”

Okay so once you’ve gone through these motions – what’s next?

Ariely suggests:

“To overcome this problem, I would set a rule that limits the amount of time you are allowed to spend searching for a solution, and I would choose a default activity in case you fail to come up with a better option.

For example, take an acceptable good activity (going to drink at X, playing football at Y) and announce to your friends that, unless someone else comes up with a better alternative, in ten minutes you are all heading out to X or Y.

I would also set up a timer on your phone to make it clear that you mean business and to make sure that the time limit is honoured.

Once the buzzer sounds, just start heading out to X or Y, asking everyone to come with you and tell the people who do not join you immediately that you will meet them there. 

After repeating this tactic a few times, your friends will get used to it and you should experience an end to this wasteful habit.”

What you can do

It’s tough making decisions.

But sometimes, among all the options that you’re considering, it doesn’t necessarily matter what you choose.

Dan Ariely explains why:

“The larger point is that once we have spent a substantial amount of time on a decision, and we still can’t work out which option is the best, it must mean that the overall value of the competing options is more or less the same. It is not that the options are identical, but that the difference in their overall quality is hard to distinguish.” 

So if – on a night out for example – you’re having trouble deciding between option A, B, and C which are identical in value then save yourself the trouble and just choose any option.

You’d be surprised to notice that once you’ve confidently made the decision to go to place A and lead the group, that option somehow becomes more valuable because it’s moved the interaction forward.

And your unwavering confidence in your decision and you’re enthusiasm about your choice rubs off on your group of friends.

And more often than not, the choice you made turns out to be the right one.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my email list.

Behavioural Economics in Real Life

Do it London

The London HIV Prevention Programme has launched a campaign that is designed to increase awareness about HIV, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Moreover, it promotes HIV testing and encourages the practice of safe sex. The initiative offers sexual promotion advice and free condoms.

The behavioral economics principle used in this campaign is message framing. Prospect theory proposes that framing messages can have a huge influence on the preferences and choices of people (Tversky and Kahneman, 1982). Moreover, people tend to be risk-averse when messages are framed as gains, and risk seeking when messages are framed as losses. In fact, it was found that gain-framed messages encourage preventative health behaviors more so than loss-framed messages (Gallagher and Updegraff, 2012). 

5p carrier bags

The British government implemented a policy to put a 5p charge on every new plastic carrier bag used in supermarkets in England. The policy encourages shoppers to re-use their plastic bags in the effort to curb usage, which severely affects the habitats of wildlife and massively contributes to carbon emissions. The 5p charge has been successful across other countries of the UK. For instance, Wales saw a 71% drop in bag usage after having implemented the policy in 2011. The government estimates that the campaign will greatly reduce the carbon footprint, equivalent to taking 35,000 cars of the road. Over the next 10 years, it is expected that the 5p charge will raise £730 for charitable causes.

The effectiveness of this campaign is attributed in part to the Incentives aspect of the MINDSPACE principles (Dolan et al., 2010). For instance, supermarkets like Sainsbury’s offer extra points to loyalty cardholders for reusing their plastic bags. Also, Sainsbury’s incentivizes this re-usage by trading in old bags for new ones free of charge.

John Lewis Christmas Advertisement

John Lewis has launched a Man on the Moon campaign to raise money for older people for Christmas. In partnership with the UK’s largest charity working with older people Age UK, the advertisement aims to raise awareness for the problem loneliness among elderly people and features a fundraising appeal. When certain John Lewis products are bought, 25% of the proceeds go to this charity. These products include cards or mugs.

The effectiveness of the charity campaign lies in the MINDSPACE principle called Messenger (Dolan et al 2010). This principle upholds that we are heavily influenced by who communicates information. The John Lewis brand is widely recognizable across the UK. By endorsing Age UK’s message of raising awareness for charity, the John Lewis brand will allow for the message to gain more traction and reach a much wider audience. It will also inevitably influence people to donate to charity this Christmas and to reach out to their elderly family members.

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime is an annual subscription programme, which offers a plethora of services, ranging from unlimited access to movies to a one-day delivery for eligible items. The membership costs £79 per year for adults and £39 for students. Amazon offers a 30-day free trial to new customers, allowing them to experience the broad array of services that having a membership entails. Once the 30-day free trial expires, the membership automatically renews itself and upgrades to an annual plan. However, customers have the liberty of opting out whenever they please.

The membership programme uses a MINDSPACE principle called Defaults (Dolan et al 2010). When a new customer opts in for the 30-day free trial, it is more likely that the customer will stick with the service and become a permanent member. This occurs due to the fact that decisions are psychologically effortful and humans are cognitively lazy. The decision to actively opt out of the service requires cognitive effort. For this reason, many customers remain opted in. 

Transport for London (TFL) London Cycle Hire Scheme

In this scheme, people can hire bicycles to travel and dock them at any docking station across the city. It is a very cost-efficient strategy for travelling around the city. The first 30 minutes of any cycle hire is free, and it costs £2 to gain 24-hour access to a bike. TFL also provides information on how to discover the “hidden gem cycle routes” in London, promotes bike rides around the city, and offers free of charge personal cycle training. The scheme has the intention of promoting exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle, bicycling as an alternative means of travelling to cars, and reducing congestion in public transport.

The scheme uses a MINDSPACE principle called Norms (Dolan et al., 2010). On the TFL website, it is emphasized that “thousands of people” use the cycle hire service. It is a means of telegraphing to the user that using cycle hires is a socially accepted rule of behavior. By the same token, it sub-communicates that it is socially contagious to hire cycles.

Stoptober

Stoptober is a Public Health England campaign that encourages cigarette smokers to abstain from smoking for the entire month of October. Starting from October 1st, smokers will have the chance to quit smoking for good by participating in this 28-day event. The enticing message of the campaign proposes that people that quit smoking for 28 days are 5x more likely to quit smoking altogether. The campaign offers support in the form of information and advice to help smokers complete the challenge.

The campaign uses MINDSPACE principles such as Commitment and Ego (Dolan et al 2010). People will use commitment devices be consistent with their public promises and achieve their goals. Therefore, by publicly taking part in Stoptober, participants will inform other participants of their promises and will want to act in accordance with them. Regarding the principle Ego, people want to project a favorable image of themselves to the world and will act in accordance with this image. Also, they want to act consistently with how they view themselves – their self-image.