Small changes big outcomes? Can nudging promote sustainable behaviour?

Christabel Sadgrove
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The idea of “nudging” - the pop-science term of the behavioural economics Nudge Theory -  has been popular for several years. In its simplest form, Nudging uses positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to influence people’s decisions.


You see it everyday in marketing and advertising. It’s also used as a way to improve people’s diets - smaller spoons nudge you to eat slower, smaller bowls nudge you eat to eat fewer calories - without having to preach about calories and fats.


Companies are now trialing nudge theory to influence the behaviours of their employees. Google, in partnership with the World Resources Institute’s Better Buying Lab, have been nudging their employees to eat a more plant based diet by subtly changing the food they offer in their on-campus restaurants. They have found that by positioning vegetarian dishes more prominently on menus, by partly replacing meat, and giving healthier dishes indulgent names has meant 71% of employees are more likely to pick the healthier option.


But can small nudges bring about big change? Is it enough to nudge a consumer or user to behave in a more positive way? Perhaps instead of small nudges we all need a strong shove to change our behaviours?


In this manner, Governments have taken broad legislative steps such as banning diesel cars and Volvo has pledged to solely make electric cars from 2019. How then can we influence company’s, governments and individuals to do more?


At the Sustainable Business Forum we will explore these questions and themes like this. We'll discuss how to leverage sophisticated forms of communication to shape consumer behaviour to make big and small changes.