Humans follow social cues all the time—which means sustainability professionals can accelerate change by making sustainable practices more visible.

We Follow the Lead of Others

Like it or not, humans are social creatures. Much of what we do is influenced by our peers. We take cues from people around us as to what’s appropriate in various situations: attending a funeral, watching a football game, or considering installing residential solar panels

And, relative to sustainable practices, that’s part of the problem.

Much of what we want people to do—saving energy, reducing water use, recycling—is relatively invisible. Few people know whether or not I turn off the water when I brush my teeth (I do) just as few people know whether you take time to recycle properly or whether you’ve programmed your thermostat to save energy.

The lack of visibility is a problem. Without clear evidence that you are making sustainable choices, I’ll presume that you aren’t. (No offense here, that’s just the way it works—we tend to notice negative behaviors more readily than positive ones.) And if I think you’re wasting energy too, then there’s no cue for me to reduce my own waste.

Photos Make Sustainability Visible

Sustainability advocates can address this challenge by shining a spotlight on sustainable practices. We can create social cues by making sustainable practices visible to everyone.

At Cool Choices, we do this by making our program platform transparent (everyone can see what everyone else is doing) and by encouraging participants to share photos as visible evidence of their activities.

You can do this with public recognition within your organization. That’s easier than ever: these days, everyone has a camera in their pocket. Encourage them to take and share photos that celebrate people doing the right things.

As you think about making things visible it’s vital that you always focus on the positive. Your aim is to send cues about what people should be doing. Never forget that we’re social creatures: if you tell me that everyone is wasting energy then I’ll waste too, because that’s what “everyone” is doing. If you want sustainable practices, don’t promote the opposite. Your aim is to make visible the right practices, to celebrate the folks who have already adopted these actions, and to nudge others toward adoption as well.

For more on strategies for making sustainable practices visible, you can view all of our past webinars on-demand.

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