For many of our environmental challenges these days, the only way that they can be tackled is by changing people's behaviour en masse. But how can we achieve this across multiple sectors of society and how do we know whether the change is going to happen fast enough before it is too late?
Schools are the obvious place to start. There is no better way to get an idea into the entire population than to include effective tools in the national curriculum. Over time, the educated masses become a generation that has the essential knowledge that will cause them to change the way they treat the environment.
But if you need to make it happen faster than that, a diverse quiver of interventions is required.
Positivity is crucial to get people on board of course (if you make people think the challenges are too great to overcome, then you will breed cynicism and inaction), but there is inevitably some who - no matter how much you explain to them the pitfalls of environmentally damaging practices - are stuck in their habits. To change this demographic, they need to be hit in the pocket with a fine and coerced into change.
This is what has happened for the last 50 years in Singapore - a traditionally authoritarian state that is the cleanest big city I have been.
They have a force of over 70,000 workers keeping the place in shape and heavy fines for littering which, unlike in New Zealand - are enforced stringently. They also have a hotline and even a
The result is a bustling multicultural city of five million people that is cleaner and more pleasant than any I have seen of that size.
But along with the stick must come the carrot. Although voluntary pro-environmental programs might not have as larger-scale and immediate effect as the threat of punishment, when people have the choice to do something good and take it, they feel more satisfied, better about themselves and better about the organisation that has facilitated that.
In Singapore I experienced this myself from the private sector when I stayed at the Novotel. They cleverly state that if you re-use your towel (which saves energy and costs) then they will plant a tree. This is a simple, easy, effective and measurable impact that comes down to the consumers' choice.
When I looked further into it, Accor Group (who own the Novotel) have gone a key step further and developed an open-sourced platform to share initiatives that make hospitality more sustainable. Being a vocal advocate for open-sourcing this made me feel good about the brand and certainly increased the likelihood of me coming back .
The key to any effective intervention is simplicity. Use very clear calls to action when educating that include how people can make a difference and why; a strict fining system provides a simple stick for authorities; and incentives for good behaviour are carrots that can improve sustainability for the private sector and save money.
If you want to help with the education, you can sign up to join one of our free presenter training sessions next year.
If you want to help getting people fined- call 0800 IN THE BIN if you are in Auckland and report them (or complain to your local authority wherever you are) and if you are in the private sector, you can take a lead from Accor, who are making sustainability work for their marketing and financial bottom line.
My hope is, that once these approaches have been developed and proven, that they will be shared so that we can have an impact, and quickly.