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To accelerate change, Danish company Behave Green is on a mission to navigate human behavioral psychology and use anthropological approaches to overcome barriers to a sustainable transition.

In the face of the current climate crisis, discussions often center around technological advancements, policy reforms, and renewable energy solutions. While these are crucial aspects of combating climate change, human behavior is frequently underestimated by policymakers and companies, or at best, misunderstood.

One company that knows how difficult it is to change behavior when it conflicts with convenience, comfort, and habit is Behave Green. The company systematically utilizes its knowledge of behavioral psychology to assist businesses in facilitating transitions toward greener, more sustainable direction.

We asked Kristoffer Ravnbøl, partner and co-founder of Behave Green, why creating change is so hard and how we can accelerate a fundamental shift in the building and other industries where progress remains sluggish due to stakeholders’ concerns about financial losses and entrenched habits despite the availability of numerous new solutions.

Q: Why is it so hard for people to change and make sustainable choices?

A: People are creatures of habit, often opting for convenience over sustainability. Also, evolutionarily, we are designed to focus on maintaining the status quo. Our biology and survival instincts are something that works against us. In behavioral psychology, we talk about loss aversion. It’s a principle that we will do more to avoid losing something than to gain something new. We resist if someone wants to control us or take something from us. We focus less on what we can gain. Breaking these habits requires increased awareness, effort, and a conscious decision to choose alternatives.

Another aspect is the current social pressures and cultural norms that strongly influence behavior toward consumption and less sustainable behavior.

Q: Are the psychological mechanisms that hinder people from embracing sustainable practices the same barriers that stop companies from doing so?

A: Companies are ruled by people. We are all influenced by psychological and behavioral mechanisms, whether we are citizens, employees, company managers, or city planners. Just now, I spoke about our biology and loss aversion. There are industries that make money by tapping into that biology. They exploit the mechanism that we think losing things, benefits, and privileges leads to an unhappy life. When companies make strategies for sustainability or reducing CO2, we rarely see how these strategies translate into changed behavior. This is a shame since, in our experience, many company employees are eager to contribute more to the company’s sustainability efforts.

Q: Many green solutions already exist in the built environment. How can we accelerate a transition?

A: The transition to green solutions faces numerous economic, structural, timing, and technical obstacles. At Behave Green, we often find that these solutions overlook the intricate and sometimes “irrational” behaviors and cultural dynamics of their clients and collaborators. In a recent collaboration, we worked with a company offering a smart solution capable of significantly reducing costs associated with building renovations. However, implementing this solution would necessitate substantial changes to the employer’s daily routines and existing systems, resulting in resistance. We, therefore, must first comprehend and address the underlying cultural and behavioral barriers to facilitate a smoother transition.

Q: Many feel that the process is going too slowly—how do you suggest we speed it up?

A: If we look at the social tipping process and potential key drivers towards change, things tend to go slow until they don’t. Right now, things seem to be moving slowly, but change is happening, and more and more projects are focusing on consumer behavior, culture, and how to create dialogue and awareness. Still, we do need more resources in this area. More focus is needed on how to work on our behaviors. Allocating funds for the green transition should include investment in culture, behavior, communication, and dialogue to raise awareness.

Lastly, there is legislation. Right now, many things are voluntary, which makes transition move slow.

Q: You have been working closely with New Loop. Tell us about the partnership and its results.

A: Any new system or solution needs real-world application.  While our clients have the technology, our expertise is behavior. New Loop, for example, is developing reusable cups and has been providing reusable coffee cups for events and festivals like the Roskilde Festival and the Climate People’s Meeting in Denmark. However, getting consumers and the staff to understand and embrace a new reusable cup system can take time and effort. Our job is to make things run smoothly and assist with the behavioral communication. How do we make things easy for consumers and staff?

The results have contributed to a larger change, where we see entire ecosystem of providers, cities, festivals, and testers working on bringing reusable cups to a wide audience. As someone who’ve worked with behavior around reusable for many years, we are very excited to see ambitous projects like Aarhus City and TOMRAS reuse pilot for reusable cups in Aarhus.

Q: A prominent player like Copenhagen Municipality is also your client. What changes did you implement in cooperation with them?

A: Copenhagen Municipality has been a leader in embracing and implementing behavioral insights to instigate change. We’ve collaborated with them for nearly a decade, contributing to increased recycling, greater reuse, and reduced CO2 emissions.

However, Copenhagen and other cities still face significant challenges: How can we influence citizens’ behaviors to reduce consumption and embedded emissions? To succeed in this endeavor, we need technical and behavioral solutions and a more systematic approach to shaping norms and values. Cities like Copenhagen are taking on a new role, facilitating partnerships and inspiring citizens and businesses to alter consumption patterns, thereby lowering emissions.

Q: Are you optimistic about reaching the climate goals?

A: I am inherently optimistic, so the answer is definitely yes. We began our journey roughly around the same time as the Sustainable Development Goals were established. Look at how much awareness they have generated in a relatively short period. When we started, few people were familiar with concepts like nudging and behavioral psychology. We had to actively seek out opportunities and provide detailed explanations. Now, clients actively seek us out, understanding precisely why they need our assistance. If more people become courageous and lead the way, the tipping point will be reached.

As part of our IMPACT series, this article explores the effects of the BLOXHUB ecosystem on the world and the green transition. Behave Green, New Loop and Copenhagen Municipality are all part of BLOXHUB’s ecosystem.