Changing behavior to improve health of people and planet

23 December 2017

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) – Sustainable development projects sometimes fail to bring about the hoped-for development or environmental outcomes, mainly because they fail to change the way people behave, said delegates at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany on Tuesday.

How to inspire behavior change to achieve sustainable development objectives, particularly concerning land use, was the focus of a panel discussion featuring non-governmental organizations Rare, Cities Without Hunger Germany and Fairventures Worldwide, as well as the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and BBC Media Action shared their views on best practices.

“A lot of [environmental] challenges are connected to human behavior, but if you look at responses, they are often limited to either restricting choices or offering financial incentives,” noted Ann-Kathrin Neureuther, project manager at Rare, which aims to achieve long-lasting conservation results through behavior change.

Understanding how people are motivated is key to setting the stage for successful environmental and development project outcomes, the panellists agreed.

Campaigns based on emotional appeals, social incentives and clear choices have succeeded in changing people’s perceptions and behaviors where traditional approaches have failed, Neureuther said, explaining that restricting choices often does not work.

Incentives payments may work on occasions, but they are not sustainable, said Caroline Ochieng, a research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute. “Understanding user behavior is critical and should precede any intervention. We need to understand what motivates users beyond incentive payments.”

A CASE MODEL: EFFICIENT STOVES

Although it might seem counterintuitive, users of more environmentally efficient stoves say they adopted them because they require less wood, rather than for the health benefits, Ochieng said, adding that the negative potential health consequences of using charcoal cooking stoves are higher than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

About half of the world’s population relies on charcoal and wood for cooking and heating, she said. Efficient stoves have often been regarded as a way to improve health and prevent pollution.

Often people did not use energy efficient stoves at all when they were made available – or, at least, not for cooking. They continued using the traditional stove because it serves purposes the new ones do not.

KNOWLEDGE AND PRIDE

Alice Bischof, vice chairperson and co-founder of Cities Without Hunger Germany, shared her experience of promoting urban gardening in Brazilian cities, often among impoverished people that have migrated from rural areas.

“Knowledge, pride and commitment can drive change,” Bischof said. “When applied to the creation of community gardens, for example, they can contribute to making urban landscapes more sustainable.”

Panduh Tukat, Indonesia representative and program manager at Fairventures Worldwide, is devoted to turning the tide on deforestation on the island of Kalimantan, which is mostly driven by logging concessions, oil palm plantations, population growth and swidden agricultural practices. Tukat highlights the impact small changes may have when it comes to changing people’s perspectives and behaviors. “New designs can change people’s perceptions, and help them shift away from hardwood and towards lightwood when it comes to furniture.” One more step in the right direction.