When it comes to sustainability there is a gap between knowledge and action. Many struggle to change their behavior or make sustainable choices, especially when they are inconvenient or require us to go against defaults and established norms.
There are different approaches to foster sustainable decision-making or behavior change, from providing information to enforcing regulation. One concept that the SDG-iLevel project will make use of is nudging: The Nudge Theory was introduced in 2008 by economist Richard Thaler and the legal scholar Cass Sunstein. Nudging is based on an understanding of the psychology of decision-making with the aim to encourage sustainable behavior through positive and gentle persuasion.
Our brains are wired in a way that leads us to use mental shortcuts that make our behavior highly context-dependent, e.g. “do what everyone else is doing” or “take the easiest option”. Also, a lot of our behavior is automatic, as we follow ingrained routines or act on auto-pilot. Because there is a gap between what we intend to do and what we actually do, it is generally more effective to focus – as nudging does – on changing behavior directly, rather than simply raising awareness.
Changing one's behavior
There are many kinds of nudges; as the SDG-iLevel project puts a focus on individual actions, we will focus on self-nudges. The idea behind self-nudging is that people can design and structure their own environment in a way that makes it easier for them to make the decisions they want. In this case people will be fully aware of what they want to achieve through the application of the nudges, and all information
will be presented to them in a transparent way.
As one project outcome (PR3), we will develop a toolkit with a catalog of self-nudges. This Self-Nudging Toolkit will help people – in particular academic staff – to make changes in their daily (professional) lives to support the SDGs through self-regulated use of nudges. The toolkit will also contain a user's guide with guidelines for developing self-nudges.