There are moments of parenthood which are genuinely surreal. I often come home to a scene which resembles a modern-day Mary Celeste. A half-eaten plate of food, the living room light on, TV still blasting away, and an untouched glass of wine… All usually signs that the youngest daughter has woken up suddenly, and disrupted the solitude of a quiet meal in front of the box.
Ours is truly a life of constant interruptions.
I was considering this as a possible answer to a question my colleague Sue Cook posed to me about Earth Hour , which will take place this coming Saturday. For the uninitiated, Earth Hour is the annual Climate Change campaign which has the simple approach of asking us to switch off unnecessary lights, appliances, etc, for just one hour.
Sue’s question to me was fairly fundamental: how do we get people to change behaviour? How do we get them to switch off the lights?
At one level it’s a question that seems so easy to answer. I mean how difficult is it really to switch a light off. My three-year old daughter can do it. (Then again, she can also switch them on… which may be a small, but growing contributory factor to the problem!).
There were conflicting views when I put this problem to the team. The solutions fell in to three camps:
1) Make it cool
2) Make it simple
3) Punish people
Clearly there are drawbacks and benefits to each solution. Making it cool sounds great, but runs the risk of being a fad. This isn’t really about doing something for one hour… we are looking for long-term, sustained change. Right?
Make it simple? Well, as I said, at one level it couldn’t be more straightforward. Yet we still leave our appliances on. Is it that things are really too complex for us? Perhaps it’s about being nudged more often. We recently did some work with remote workers at a global heavy industrials company. We were trying to ask employees to follow essential processes (including Health & Safety measures). Our approach was to really understand where key points in the process might be… where exactly would people make decisions, or simply forget about the process? Having done that forensic analysis it was then all about having simple (but visible) prompts and reminders at key points in the process. The results were impressive. There was a marked improvement in the adoption of key processes.
As for the third solution… yes we could punish people more. We could make people pause by introducing draconian punishments for high energy usage – including fines, or even public humiliation. I’m a great believer in incentives and disincentives… Indeed the market may already be heading that way in any case as rising energy prices begin to provide a growing disincentive for wastage…
I am sure the best solution will borrow from all of the above. My view as with any change process is that it needs to feel immediate for the people who need to change.The changes need to be based in real-life, it should resonate with their everyday circumstances. The changes proposed should have tangible, meaningful impact.
And maybe that’s the real problem. Turning off a light switch just feels so… well… small. Particularly next to an objective like saving the planet. Are we really able to make the emotional (and rational) connection between that huge goal, and our small action?
So Sue, I’m not sure if that answers your question? Probably not satisfactorily, but rest assured my household will be doing its bit this coming Saturday. Well if we’re not interrupted that is…