Convenience: Making it Easy to Act
All things are difficult before they are easy.
The previous six chapters identified a variety of tools to overcome barriers to a sustainable behavior that reside within an individual. As powerful as these tools are, they will be ineffective if the behavior is inconvenient. If the behavior is unpleasant or time-consuming, for example, no matter how well you address internal barriers your community-based social marketing strategy will be unsuccessful.
The first step to removing external barriers is to identify them. Using the techniques outlined in the chapter on barriers and benefits, attempt to isolate what external barriers exist and what can be done to address them. The City of Boulder, Colorado, for example, identified that two significant barriers to mass transit usage were workers’ concerns regarding how they would get home quickly in an emergency (e.g., a sick child that has to come home from school) and, for women, safety concerns about taking mass transit late at night. These two barriers were addressed by providing a free taxi service in either of these instances.
The role of inconvenience is also evident with backyard composting. At present, approximately 30% of homeowners in the Province of Ontario participate in composting, compared with over 80% participation in curbside recycling. While many factors might explain these substantially different participation rates, it is likely that the inconvenience of obtaining a composter, and the perceived inconvenience of composting, are significant barriers. Indeed, in two studies that I conducted in different Canadian cities, inconvenience was on both occasions one of the most significant barriers to composting.1 Furthermore, in comparing households who compost seasonally with those who compost throughout the year, the only factor which was found to distinguish these two groups was the perceived inconvenience of composting in the winter (remember the anecdote with which I began this book).
Communities that provide curbside organic collection effectively eliminate several of the external barriers that exist for backyard composting. First, these communities directly provide households with containers or carts, removing the cost and inconvenience of obtaining a backyard composter from a store. Second, many of these communities provide kitchen organic catchers along with the curbside container, increasing the convenience of collecting organics. Because many of these containers often include a prompt to identify what can be composted, learning to separate organics is also simplified. Third, unlike backyard composting, the process of curbside organic collection is nearly identical to that used for curbside recycling and garbage disposal (place in a container, take the container to the curb, periodically wash container). The similarity of this new behavior (curbside organic collection) to older, well established behaviors (recycling and garbage collection), simplifies what a household needs to learn in order to participate. The impact of making composting convenient and inexpensive by providing containers and curbside collection can produce dramatic results. In an evaluation of a curbside organic pilot, in the Halifax Regional Municipality, fully 99% of households participated. Indeed, the one household who was not participating, wanted to, but had not received a cart in which to place their organics.
It is important to assess whether it is realistic to overcome the external barriers you identify. To do this, it is useful to explore the success that other programs have had in promoting the same behavior and decide whether you have the resources to mount a similar program. Promoting the use of car pooling, mass transit, bicycling and walking as alternatives to single occupant car usage, as Boulder, Colorado has done, requires significant expenditures. In cases where the financial resources do not exist to make the new behavior more convenient, such as through building bicycle paths, consider instead making the behavior you wish to discourage less convenient and more costly. Multiple possibilities exist for making an activity such as single-occupant driving less convenient and more costly.2,3 As described in the last chapter, many communities have instituted slower laneways on highways for single-occupant cars or have introduced traffic calming by turning two-way streets into one-way streets. Corporations have discouraged single-occupant car usage by charging more for parking for single-occupant vehicles and making the parking of these cars less convenient (e.g., farther from the building).
Making the activity you wish to discourage less convenient and more expensive can increase motivation for the behavior you wish to encourage. In short, you want to design a program that enhances motivation by making the sustainable behavior more convenient and less costly than the alternative, non-sustainable activity. As demonstrated in the previous chapter, incentives can be effectively used to enhance motivation.
Finally, it is important to note that convenience is to some extent a matter of perception. When people have experience with an activity, they often come to see that activity as being more convenient than when they first began. In one study, as individuals gained more experience with recycling bottles they found it more convenient.4 While a behavior that is perceived very inconvenient will need other measures, those actions that are perceived to be only somewhat inconvenient may be addressed through the use of tools such as commitment and norms.
In summary, because the nature of external barriers can vary dramatically across communities, strategies for removing these barriers will have to be tailored to each situation. Begin by identifying what external barriers exist and then seek information from other communities on how they have dealt with the external barriers you have identified. Next, determine whether you have the resources to implement similar initiatives. If you determine that you do not have the resources, you should seriously reconsider your options. As mentioned above, a community-based social marketing initiative that ignores external barriers is a recipe for failure.
Below are some external barriers to sustainable behaviors and some possible solutions.
Examples: Using Convenience to Foster Sustainable Behavior
Agriculture & Conservation
- Provide visitors to aquariums with information cards on sustainably harvested seafood that makes it easy for them to identify this seafood when purchasing groceries of eating out. Monterey Bay Aquarium has initiated a successful program that does just that.
- It is inconvenient for homeowners to purchase and install programmable thermostats and other low-cost, quick payback energy efficiency devices. Initiate a door-to-door service that provides and installs these devices.
- Commuters often view mass transit as an inconvenient option compared to driving a vehicle. The perceived relative convenience of driving can be altered by making driving less convenient (e.g., slower lane-ways for single-occupant cars, introduce traffic calming and one-way streets).
Waste & Pollution
- It is inconvenient to obtain a composting unit. Delivering compost units door-to-door as was done with recycling containers addresses this barrier. When compost units are delivered for free, as they were in a pilot project in the City of Waterloo, Ontario, participation rates can rival those for recycling programs.10 In that pilot project, a door hanger was distributed to 300 homes informing residents that they had been selected to receive a free composting unit. Of the 300 homes that were contacted, 253 (or 84%) agreed to accept compost units. In a follow-up survey, 77% of these households were found to be using their compost units.
- When inconvenience for office recycling is overcome, the effects can be startling. Providing each office worker with a recycling container for fine paper can increase the amount of fine paper retrieved from a few percent to over 75%.
- The inconvenience of taking household hazardous waste to a depot results in little of this waste being diverted from the landfill. Providing semi-annual hazardous waste home pick-up dates can dramatically increase proper disposal of this material.
- It is inconvenient to purchase and install toilet dams, faucet aerators and low-flow shower heads. Having home auditors install these devices during home visits addresses these barriers.