Persuasive Communication Key to Sustainable Behaviour

Monday, January 25th, 2016
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Persuasive Communication
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Human encounters often involve influencing or persuading others to our way of thinking, be it in an organization where we have to persuade our colleagues and clients to consider our suggestions or in the home where we have to persuade our kids to eat nutritious meals.

The path to a sustainable future involves persuading the public at large to alter their attitudes and behaviours, and to adopt a lifestyle that supports sustainability. Effective communication will obviously aid with persuasion.

The first step toward persuasion is to capture people’s attention. In this day and age, when we’re frequently bombarded with endless information, the only way to grasp people’s attention is to present the information in a vivid, specific and personalized way.

Vividly presented information is likely to stand out and make a lasting impression. For example, the remarkable front cover of the international best seller Material World: A Global Family Portrait vividly portrays  the differences in consumption between a typical American family and family from a developing country. It puts a human face on the issues of population, consumption and its impact on our environment. It also brings to life the crucial question facing humanity today: can all seven billion of us have everything we want?


Anything designed to nudge people in a desired direction must be specific for people to comprehend and implement the message. Research on the public’s understanding of resource use demonstrates that people often have a poor understanding of household resource consumption. Our everyday energy consumption is barely noticeable and the standard energy bill often fails to offer long-lasting motivation to cut down on energy usage. The Wattson clock by Energeno attempts to make consumers choose the options that benefit the environment and help them save money in the long run.

The clock comes with a clip and transmitter that are connected to the home’s electricity meter to measure the home’s total energy usage in real time. Besides showing the watts used, it calculates how much money home appliances are costing to run. Different lights correspond with different levels of energy usage – for example, blue for low, purple for average and red for high energy use.

If we want to monitor and reduce our energy consumption, we need to keep an eye on the watts used and calculate the costs, something we might not do on a regular basis. By connecting Wattson to a computer, one can store information and see energy usage go down over a period, which can encourage users to save money. By giving the numbers in real time and providing the resulting costs, Wattson provides specific information which people can comprehend and act upon.

Research on persuasion states that our attitudes and behaviours are influenced by personal contact. In a pilot program conducted by Pacific Gas and Electric in California, trained home assessors used personalized communication to persuade householders to improve energy conservation in their dwellings. Despite free home inspections and advice on offer, few customers made the recommended alterations. To tackle the issue, assessors started to present the information in a vivid and personalized manner.

For example, rather than simply pointing out the cracks, assessors would compare the cracks in a living room to a hole the size of a basketball. Such vividly presented information would make the dwellers think of the heat that would escape from the hole that size and nudge them to weather strip their homes. In addition, assessors involved residents in the home inspection by making them read meters, inspect the insulation level of their attics, and check uninsulated water heaters. They would also describe the process of weather stripping in a clear straightforward steps to make it easy for homeowners to understand and follow. This method of personalized communication and customer involvement persuaded 60 per cent of homeowners to make their houses more energy efficient – more than three times the national average.

To develop an effective communication strategy, one needs to develop a thorough understanding of the target audience. The target audience often involves various segments of the community with different attitudes, beliefs and behaviour. Therefore, one needs to gather as much information as possible of the target audience to determine the content and the most effective way of communication.

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