Simple Painless Report

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  • 7/23/2019 Simple Painless Report



    April 2008

    The limitations ofspillover in environmental


    Simple & painless?

    February 2009

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    Dont be distracted by the myth that

    every little helps. If everyone does a little,well achieve only a little.

    The Cambridge physicist David McKay hasdone the environment movement a great service

    with the recent publication of his book SustainableEnergy without the hot air.(Its a service whichis all the greater for his decision to make theentire content of this book freely available online).

    The book leads us, in rigorous quantitative detail,through the scale of the challenge we confront ifwe are to make the necessary reductions in our useof fossil fuels. There is one message that leapsout from this analysis above all others:A



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    This doesnt necessarily pull the rug from

    beneath all those campaigns to encourage

    people to adopt simple and painless behavioural

    changes with negligible direct environmental

    benefit. But if government, business and non-

    governmental organisations are to persist in

    campaigning for such changes, then it must

    be because it can be demonstrated that the

    adoption of these will spillover into more

    ambitious and environmentally significant

    changes either large-scale changes in

    peoples private-sphere behaviour, or more

    active engagement with political process to

    demand new and ambitious government action.

    Last year WWF published a report,

    Weathercocks and Signposts: the environment

    movement at a cross roads, which critically

    examined the empirical evidence for the

    effectiveness of many aspects of current

    environmental campaign strategies. As part of

    this analysis, we suggested that there simplyisnt the empirical evidence to justify reliance

    upon spillover from simple and painless steps

    into more difficult and potentially environmentally

    significant behavioural change.

    We were unprepared for the volume of

    feedback that the publication of this report

    elicited. But this feedback was overwhelmingly

    positive, and the ensuing debate has left us

    feeling yet more confident in standing by the

    reports key conclusions.

    There was, though, one area where weparticularly wanted to deepen and extend our

    analysis: we wanted to better substantiate our

    rejection of reliance upon spillover as a central

    plank in environmental campaign strategies. To

    do so, we realised that we needed to enlist the

    help of an academic with an impressive track

    record of work in this area. We found such

    an expert in the psychologist Professor John

    Thgersen, who has published very extensively

    on spillover as this relates to pro-environmental

    behaviour: reporting both on the large number

    of empirical studies he has conducted in this

    area, and upon his own deep understanding

    of the theoretical basis of this effect. Simple

    and painless? The limitations of spillover in

    environmental campaigningis the result

    of this collaboration.

    Our work in this area has led us to strive

    for a new rigour in designing WWF-UKs own

    campaigns, where these urge our supporters,

    or the wider public, to do something. We

    are demanding greater clarity of ourselves

    on whether we are content to effect the

    immediate behavioural changes we seek or

    whether, in fact, we are aspiring to motivating

    further and deeper behavioural changes or

    political engagement. If our focus is on the

    immediate changes, we must ask ourselves:

    Is this enough? And if we aspire to motivatingfurther and deeper change as a result of these

    campaigns, then we must ask ourselves:

    By what mechanisms do we hope that

    these motivations will arise?

    Publishing reports of this nature invites

    particular scrutiny of the way WWF-UK itself

    shapes its campaign strategies. We welcome

    this scrutiny whilst recognising, of course,

    that we still have work to do ourselves.

    David Norman

    Director of Campaigns


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    The authors thank David Norman, Professor Folke lander,Joe Brewer, Katherine Symonds, Peter Denton,Stephen Fitzpatrick, and Professor Tim Kasser for helpfuldiscussions, or their comments on earlier versions of this paper.


    Tom Crompton MA, PhD is Change Strategist

    at WWF-UK, Godalming, Surrey, where he

    has developed WWFs Strategies for Change

    Project. This seeks to critically examine

    the empirical basis for todays dominant

    approaches to pro-environmental behaviour

    change and engagement with policy-

    makers, and to develop new evidence-based

    strategies. He is the author of Weathercocks

    and Signposts: The Environment Movement

    at a Cross Roads (WWF, 2008). He can be

    contacted at:

    John Thgersen MSc, PhD is professor of

    economic psychology at the Department of

    Marketing and Statistics, Aarhus School of

    Business, Aarhus University, Denmark. His

    research focuses on social and environmental

    marketing, the motivational roots of norms for

    environmentally responsible behaviour, and

    the role of moral norms in consumer decision-

    making. He has published extensively

    on spillover and pro-environmental behaviour.He can be contacted


    This report is one of a series produced as

    part of WWF-UKs Strategies for Change

    Project. It is only available electronically, and

    further copies can be downloaded at

    For information on this project not available

    on this webpage, please contact Tom

    Crompton at the email address above, or on

    +44 (0)777 6467553.

    The mission of WWF is to stop the degradation of the planetsnatural environment and to build a future in which humans livein harmony with nature, by: conserving the worlds biological diversity ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable reducing pollution and wasteful consumption

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    Executive Summary 6

    1. Introduction 9

    2. Preliminary considerations 12 2.1 Types of behaviour

    2.2 Positive and negative spillover

    2.3 Foot-in-the-door effect

    2.4 Reasons for behavioural change 2.5 When spillover is not the priority

    3. An overview of the empirical evidence on spillover 14 3.1 Spillover and self-perception theory

    3.2 Spillover and cognitive dissonance

    3.3 Spillover and knowledge or skills acquisition

    3.4 Resting on ones laurels

    4. Implications for environmental communications and campaigns 20 4.1 The limitations of spillover

    4.2 Optimising the possibility of spillover

    4.2.1 Be clear about the environmental reasons for behaviour change

    4.2.2 Make explicit the connections between differentpro-environmental behaviours

    4.2.3 Causal clarity: focus exclusively on the environmental benefitsof a behaviour

    4.2.4 Frequency of occurrence: Campaigns to adopt

    pro-environmental behaviours which have already reached a

    high degree of social normalisation will not provide a good

    basis for positive spillover

    5. Simple and painless steps and acquiescence in political interventions 25

    5.1 The likely importance of reasons for behaviour change

    5.2 The likely importance of framing in shaping dominant public values

    References 30

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    If those in government, business or thethird sector persist in advocating simple

    and painless behavioural changes as a

    meaningful response to todays most pressing

    environmental challenges, this must be

    because they are persuaded that such changes

    will encourage the adoption of other, and

    particularly othermore ambitious, behaviours.

    Among these other more ambitious

    behaviours, engagement with political process

    will be of particular importance. Whatever the

    steps that can be taken to mitigate a problemsuch as climate change through private-

    sphere behavioural changes, ambitious new

    government intervention is urgently needed.

    This in turn requires the development of

    greater public activism (e.g. participation in

    direct action), active citizenship (e.g. writing

    letters to political decision-makers) and

    passive acceptance of government intervention.

    In failing to respond properly to todays

    environmental challenges, governmentsare guilty of capitulating their leadership

    responsibility but the lack of public pressure

    for ambitious new government interventions

    cannot be seen as an excuse for this failure.

    In the light of this regrettable government

    timidity, therefore, it is crucial that

    environmental organisations find more

    Executive summary

    The comfortable perception that global environmental challengescan be met through marginal lifestyle changes no longer bearsscrutiny. The cumulative impact of large numbers of individualsmaking marginal improvements in their environmental impact will bea marginal collective improvement in environmental impact. Yet welive at a time when we need urgent an