Nudging in your city: how to let your citizens make the sustainable choice for themselves

Climate Action 3 min read , August 7, 2019

Read this article in another language : Dutch β€’ French β€’ Spanish

Lines on the ground that guide you to the stairs instead of the elevator. Plates that are just a little bit smaller at the buffet. A smart traffic sign shows a smiley if you stay below the speed limit. These are all examples of nudging : small adjustments that change people's behaviour, without prohibiting options or imposing more costs. Learn how to apply this easy and efficient technique in your city.πŸ‘‡

πŸ’‘This article is based on the presentation of Jan Ryckmans (dutch) of Haystack International at our third FutureproofedCities Talk (dutch).

About this nudging thing 🧐

Nudges are often very small, simple adjustments that bring about a predictable change in people's behaviour. The way in which they do it makes the concept unique: they do it without prohibiting the undesired choice and without incurring any additional costs. 🀯What?

Nudging can be applied when someone is making a conscious choice, this is type 1 nudging. For example, you can use green labels for sustainable products and red labels for less sustainable products. But nudging can also be applied without reflection : type 2 nudging. Think for example of the smaller plates for a buffet.

There is also the difference between transparent and non-transparent nudges. In other words: whether we realise that something is trying to change our behaviour.

πŸ’ͺLet's summarize with some examples :

  • Conscious - transparent : the alarm of your seatbelt
  • Conscious - not transparent : a poster with a person looking at you for 'social control' (e.g. next to a dishwasher in the office)
  • Unconsciously - transparent : a visual illusion on the road
  • (e.g. a zebra crossing that has the illusion of being 3D, so that it looks like speed thresholds)
  • Unconsciously - not transparent : default choices βœ… (put the choice you want as default, and that choice will be chosen much more often)
Source: Presentation Jan Ryckmans, Haystack International

Nudging and sustainability 🌱

Once we know which nudges promote sustainable behaviour, we can apply all of this to climate action πŸ™Œ. Behavioural insights are the specialty of Haystack International. They did some interesting research with useful results for cities.

The first study set the default choice for electricity on green electricity (the customers had to deselect a box if they didn't want green electricity). It turns out that almost 70% of the citizens opted for green electricity! Just by adjusting the default option 🀯.

Another study compared the number of customers of shops with closed or open doors. With a long test period and several test set-ups in Antwerp, they came to the conclusion that closed doors didn't lead to fewer customers at all. βœ… So don't hesitate to advise the shopkeepers in your city to keep their doors closed : they won't lose any income, but they will save on their energy bills and they will become more sustainable. πŸ’ͺ

Nudging in your city πŸš€

Probably you're wondering: very nice, but how can I work with this in my city?

πŸ‘‰ in your own policy

These actions can be directly applied in your own municipal buildings :

  • Lines on the ground to the stairs instead of the elevator in your buildings
  • Smaller plates for the following buffets
  • Green labels for more sustainable products in vending machines or in the cafeteria
  • Organise an information session in your municipality about nudging for other services
  • ...

πŸ‘‰ in the rest of your city

Get inspiration from the list below to carry out actions in your city :

  • Inform energy providers to set their default choice (for your city) to green electricity
  • Promote the study of closed shop doors in winter
  • Offer assistance in cleaning up attics as an incentive for roof insulation
  • 3D pedestrian crossings or smart road signs with smileys for safer and therefore more sustainable traffic.
  • Organise your own information session for companies about nudging
  • ...

Subtle. Easy. Cheap. Nudges are ideal to use as a quick-fix in your city. These climate actions are highly recommended if you want to make your city more sustainable. 🌿

β˜€οΈFutureproofedCities makes it easy to plan, organise and keep track of concrete climate measures. These measures can be linked to concrete actions such as the nudges in this article. This way, you can get straight to work with your climate plans! πŸ™Œ

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