As many of you know, I work in a field called social marketing. In a nutshell, organisations pay me to try and change people’s behaviour. In theory, I am always changing people’s behaviour for the good of the individual as well as society as a whole, although who defines ‘good’ creates debate. For example, I do a lot of work trying to encourage young people to practice safe sex, but certain church groups may not regard this as ‘good’, they may say ‘good’ is to promote abstinence out of marriage.

The core principle of the work I do is around ‘exchange’; if you want people to change their behaviour, you have to offer them something in return. This often is non-monitory – a feeling of belonging, sophistication, or security. Or, an alternative product that gives them the same or greater benefits as the product they are currently using – whatever it takes. These benefits have to be short term as we value these more than long term ones (for anyone interested, this is known as the discount factor).

What we look for in social marketing is the tipping point – the point where people believe there are more benefits than barriers, and thus adopt the new behaviour. Those working in the environmental field have understood this and have lobbied government to ensure an attractive exchange proposition is offered. This exchange is usually monitory and as a family, we have always taken advantage of these exchanges:

·         In 2012, we bought a low cc emissions car. The exchange? We felt happy that we were helping the environment and we did not have to pay the congestion charges in London which was a big incentive as at the time we lived in the congestion charge area, so we could not even move our car one metre without being charged.

·         A couple of years later, and after we had moved out of London, we bought solar panels to put on our south facing roof. The exchange? Again we felt we were doing our bit for the environment, whilst also saving money.

·         Finally, last year we insulated our house and put in a new boiler and heating system. The exchange? We will save money in the long run and at last our house is a nice place to live in during the winter – before, you used to be able to see your breath in our bedroom it was that cold!

However, it is harder to think of the exchange when going plastic free. Yes, we get that feel good factor, which should never be undervalued, and as we do not do large supermarket shops any more, we have much less food waste. However it is proving more expensive in many ways (our milk costs have more than doubled since getting door-to-door deliveries) and we have to forgo lots of delicious foods – cheeses, pasta, rice…it is a long list.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel as if the benefits outweigh the costs and if we want population level change, we need to think of a better exchange.


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