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Open Access Publications from the University of California

From the Ground Up: Lessons on Incorporating Behavior Change Research in Sustainability Programs

Creative Commons 'BY-NC' version 3.0 license

Individual- and household-level behaviors contribute to 40% of U.S. energy use and carbon emissions. Pro-environmental behavior change research has repeatedly found feedback, social norms, and commitments to be influential factors in motivating change. Sustainability programs and environmental policies that incorporate the underappreciated findings of this research stand to gain significant ground in meeting their goals. In this paper, I describe in detail the design, implementation, and preliminary results of a sustainability behavior change program implemented through the collaboration of a nonprofit organization and a municipality in Southern California. The program focused on simple low- or no-cost behavior changes and results indicate some significant reductions in GHG emissions. Results indicate significant potential for influencing sustainability behavior in groups through a suite of behavior change mechanisms. At the same time, questions are raised about the implementation strategy and measurement tools for the particular behaviors addressed. The lessons from the application of behavior change research in the development of effective sustainability programs are outlined in summary. Internal and external factors contributing to the successes and challenges of the sustainability behavior change program are also discussed.

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