Influencing Behavior to Support Sustainability

Influencing Behavior to Support Sustainability

Environmental Cues

There is powerful relationship between the environment and human behavior. This relationship takes the form of environmental cues. These cues are “elements in the environment that convey important information or trigger an affective reaction” (Lindenberg, 2011). Environmental cues are an essential part of normative behavior and play a significant role in maintaining the rules and laws in society (Lindenberg, 2011). There are many ordinary environmental cues that can impact behavior in this manner. For example, if you have ever been to a theme park, you will notice that most rides have maze like lines which people automatically enter and embark on the ride from. These lines are often a negative and positive impact on behavior depending on how they are designed. For instance, a maze which wind without purpose can have an aggravating affect on the people waiting because they cannot see anything. Today, line mazes are designed so that customers can see the ride going around which distracts them from being aggravated or impatient (20/20, 2014). Understanding environmental cues in this manner allows society to influence behavior to support concepts such as sustainability.

Modifying behavior to normatively support concepts such as sustainability requires understanding the environment in question. This understanding is necessary because “in each environment, there are cues that influence the relative strength of the goal to keep to social norms and to legitimate rules in general” (Lindenberg, 2011). For example, if society desires individuals to use bike lanes for commuting to work than it is necessary to build the bike lanes. Likewise, sustainable environments such as planned communities must take into account space and privacy concerns by creating areas and marking them with signs.

This is an environmental cue which tells everyone that this particular lane is a bike lane and that it is correct to ride the bike here. This type of cue is inline with goal of conformity (Lindenberg, 2011). Individuals who see and obey this goal show support for the norm of riding bikes rather than cars. According to Lindenberg (2011), there are three overarching goals which this type of goal strives to achieve which includes:

· Normative goal: to behave appropriately, conform to social norms and rules (subgoals are for example helping others, keeping the environment clean).

· Gain goal: to maintain or improve one’s resources (subgoals are for example making money, gaining status, saving for later).

· Hedonic goal: to maintain or improve the way one feels right now (subgoals are for example economizing on effort, having fun) (Lindenberg, 2011).

This sign for a bike lane allows for social behavior to be modified to support sustainability by creating a system or rule to which everyone needs to conform. Simply by creating cues in this manner, negative or unsustainable behavior is limited. Perhaps the more important aspect of this cue is that over time it provides a means for changing attitudes and perspectives concerning environmental sustainability. The evidence of this change can be seen in other areas of sustainability thinking such as recycling. Today, most people readily obey recycling norms simply by placing recycling containers and marking them properly.

Once a behavior has become a norm, this perpetuates future behavior and reinforces the desired outcome. In order to perpetuate sustainable behavior an environmental cue must be designed with previous mentioned overarching goals (Lindenberg, 2011). If the cue does not contain these goals then it will lack strength and likely fail to achieve its end. For this reason:

The relative strength of the normative goal is also highly relevant for pro- environmental behaviors, because caring for the natural environment is most stable when it is based on normative concerns, rather than on mood, fear of punishment and expectation of rewards. However, compared with the other two overarching goals, the normative goal needs the most support in order to influence behavior (see Lindenberg & Steg, 2007). If normative goals are strong, then people have respect for norms and their behavior will reflect this respect (Lindenberg, 2011).

There are a two possible strategies that can be used to alter behavior and habits to less negative environmental impacts. The first of these strategies is to attempt to alter perceptions. Changing a person’s outlook has a lot to do with altering perceptions and lifestyles. By placing environmental cues strategically in public places it is possible to alter the behaviors of many people. For example, placing cues such as flowers in public parks that not only provide a visual stimulation but also a aromatic smell can give people reason to respect and find value in the public places (McGunn, 2013). Providing stimulation in this manner cue people to the value of the environment and will overtime give them a sense of protecting it.

Another strategy for altering behavior and habits can be the implementation of signs for walking and bike riding. The more signs that promote these activities, the more likely it is that people will begin acting on them. This of course means providing the lanes and means for these activities. Once these behaviors are adopted they become normative and people continue following the cues.

While the environment can be used to alter behavior in this manner it is important to remember that the cues must be designed with the three overarching goals in order to make them effective. Without these goals the normative effect of the cue will be lost. In order to create the desired change, the cue must have strength.


20/20. (2014, April 23). Disney Theme Parks Reimagining the Wait in Line. Retrieved 2015, from ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2014/04/disney-theme-parks-reimagining-the-wait-in-line/

Lindenberg, S. (2011, December 12). Environmental Psychology: An Introduction. Retrieved from Academia Works: http://lindenberg.academiaworks.com/articles/2012%20Lindenberg%20UNCORRECTED%20PROOFS%20Environmental%20cues%2030-12-11.pdf

McGunn, L. J. (2013, February 15). Environmental Territoriality and Me. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ienvironment/201302/environmental-territoriality-and-me

Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash


Triola Vincent. Tue, Feb 02, 2021. Influencing Behavior to Support Sustainability Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/influencing-behavior-to-support-sustainablity

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