Evelina Gunnarsson

May 26, 2021

4 tips on using nudging to facilitate climate-friendly choices

Getting more people to act on their climate-friendly beliefs is key to sustainable change. Small nudges and a clever use of information can help people leap the intention-action gap. This article explores why and gives you four easy tips to get started.

A new study conducted by Ramboll in Sweden indicate that 92 percent of Swedish inhabitants could see themselves make changes in their everyday lives to limit their own impact on the climate. In particular, Swedes indicate a willingness to:
  • Consume less
  • Choose environmentally friendly product
  • Walk and bike more
  • Eat more vegetarian and vegan food
A similar survey conducted by Ramboll in Denmark last year showed that a growing number of the Danes would even like to pay more if a product or service was sustainable.
But one thing is what we intent to do. Another what we in fact do. Behavioral scientists speak about a so-called intention-action gap.
So, what is it that causes us to not always act in a sustainable and climate-friendly manner, even though we would like to? And how can we design information in a way that makes us act more climate-friendly in our everyday lives? With help from science about human behavior and decision-making processes, I will try to answer those questions.
Why more information is not always better
The Swedish Ramboll study shows that many people request more information about how to make sustainable and climate-friendly choices. This is even though information on how to act more climate friendly in our everyday lives can be easily retrieved from search engines like Google.
The amount of information about climate-friendly choices can appear overwhelming and it can be difficult to navigate between different environmental advices. For example, behavioral research has shown that more information can lead to people making worse decisions, stick to old routines or not make any decision at all1.
Small changes with big impact
With help from behavioral science, it is possible to present information in a way that supports actual change. Nudging is a method which is about making it easier to make the right decision without applying economic incentive. Nudging is commonly referred to as “a little push in the right direction” and can be used to design information in a way that can make us act more climate friendly, one small step at a time.
Yet, some changes have significant impact when affecting thousands of people in one go. For instance, when a German electricity company presented green electricity as the default option, they saw an increase in people choosing green electricity from 7.2 percent to 69.1 percent although it was a more expensive option2.
Small and simple changes in our decision-making environments can make a big difference and contribute to reducing our climate impact.

"With help from behavioral science, it is possible to present information about climate-friendly choices in a way that supports actual change."


Getting climate-friendly information right
So, let’s push ahead with four tips on how you can use nudging to design information in order to facilitate sustainable and climate-friendly choices. This inspiration can be used regardless if you are an external communications professional, an internal change agent or consultant or perhaps a leader eager to foster the green transition in your company.
1. Frame information in a way that makes it attractive for the target group
How we decide to present information is pivotal for how the receiver will think and act. A study showed that more people chose to travel by public transport when they were informed about how much money they would save compared to informing them about protecting the environment by travelling with public transport3.
It is important to adapt messages to the target group and understand what it is that drives change among the target group. Differences in perceptions based on regions, gender, and age, and what they are affected by in their everyday lives can be used as basis for adapting the framing to fit the target group. For example, some individuals are more inclined to take in messages based on health aspects rather than messages based on sustainability aspects4.
2. Provide information at the right time – in decision-making situations
There is a bigger chance to influence a decision by providing information at the point when the decision is made. In Ramboll's report, we see that this is something that is being requested by the Swedish inhabitants. For example, one study showed that those who were aware of their water consumption in real time reduced their time in the shower by an average of 22 percent5.
In a Norwegian study, consumers were given information about the energy cost of their tumble dryers during their lifetime on labels in store, which contributed to a reduction in energy consumption among the sold products of 4.9 percent6.
3. Make the desirable behavior salient
We need to make it easy to identify important information and people tend to focus on information which stands out. Making something stand out could be done by using strong colors or change the actual positioning of the information.
A study showed that more people chose vegetarian lunch in a restaurant when the positioning of the menu and the visibility of the vegetarian option changed. Making the vegetarian option more salient increased the number of vegetarian dishes that were sold by six percentage points7.
4. Inform the target group about the norm for the desirable behavior
Humans are herd animals and we would like to act in accordance with the norms of those we identify with. One way to influence our decisions and behavior is to inform people how others act.
As an example, an electricity company in the U.S achieved large energy savings by sending out information which compared their customers energy consumption with that of their neighbor while providing advice on energy saving efforts8. It is important to focus on the behavior we desire to achieve and not on how many people who do not perform such behavior yet.
As an example: ”More and more people choose a vegetarian diet” instead of “Many people continue to consume too much meat”. Making the climate friendly option the default option is another way of signaling a norm.
Test and learn is vital
As always with behavioral science and nudging, test and learn is vital. As the social scientist Peter Lang once said; “All you can do is tickle it and see how it jumps”. Meaning that one never knows how people react or respond to any kind of intervention. So, try it out, be observant and you will see what works and what does not.
  1. Scheibehenne, B., Greifeneder, R., & Todd, P. M. (2010). Can there ever be too many options? A meta-analytic review of choice overload. Journal of consumer research, 37(3), 409-425.
  2. Ebeling, F., & Lotz, S. (2015). Domestic uptake of green energy promoted by opt-out tariffs. Nature Climate Change, 5(9), 868.
  3. https://beteendelabbet.se/cases/linkopings-kommun/
  4. Myers, T. A., Nisbet, M. C., Maibach, E. W., & Leiserowitz, A. A. (2012). A public health frame arouses hopeful emotions about climate change. Climatic change, 113(3-4), 1105-1112.
  5. Tiefenbeck, V., Goette, L., Degen, K., Tasic, V., Fleisch, E., Lalive, R., Staake, T. (2016). Overcoming salience bias: how real-time feedback fosters resource conservation. Management science, 64(3), 1458-1476.
  6. Kallbekken, S., H. Sælen and E. A. T. Hermansen (2013), ‘Bridging the Energy Efficiency Gap: A Field Experiment on Lifetime Energy Costs and Household Appliances’ Journal of Consumer Policy, Vol. 36 No. 1, pp. 1–16.
  7. Kurz, V. (2018). Nudging to reduce meat consumption: Immediate and persistent effects of an intervention at a university restaurant. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. 90:317-341.
  8. Allcott, Hunt (2011), ‘Social norms and energy conservation’ Journal of Public Economics, Vol. 95 No. 9–10, pp. 1082–1095

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  • Evelina Gunnarsson

    Senior Consultant

    +46 72 143 43 13