A man walking in a sustainable city with his daughter

Is it possible to influence people to live more sustainably?

Making people go from awareness to action

Both Sweden and the world are facing a major challenge: we need to adapt our living towards a more sustainable way of life, and quickly. Sweden aims to become climate neutral by 2045, and the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to meet the Paris Protocol’s goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

But how do we make the climate transition itself sustainable? How do we get people on board – not just the enthusiasts – and can we do it smoothly? Nudging is a way to facilitate more sustainable choices, through a “nudge” in the right direction, e.g., through a push notification on a mobile phone. AFRY is participating in a research project that connect competencies in sustainability, climate, behavioural research on nudging on digital platforms and artificial intelligence (AI) in order to find a solution to these issues, with funding from the Swedish Energy Agency.

A harbour
Sweden produced about 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2021

The climate impact from Swedes’ lifestyle is usually said to come from mainly 5 areas: how we travel, what we eat, how we live, what we buy, and how we invest. There is a plethora of climate calculators (many good ones, such as WWF:s) and a quick google search will give you even more tips on how we live climate-smart and sustainably. However, these tips are often found mostly by people who are already interested in the environment. And how easy is it to change you habits, even when you know what to do? Not very easy, according to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s statistics on Sweden’s climate emissions.

Of course, important instruments are needed at the societal level, such as legislation, taxes and financial support for the climate transitions. But the whole society is already permeated by various types of behavioural influences, such as advertising and social media, and this can be used to help people change their lifestyle. Nudge is a term that means nudging someone towards a change in behaviour without restricting their freedom of action. In behavioural economics, nudging means pushing people towards more sustainable decisions.

For a real estate company, there are several areas where they naturally have contact with their residents. In the areas of energy, parking/carpools, waste management, packaging recycling, composting, and the well being of the neighbourhood community. There is therefore a potential for real estate companies to use a real estate app to also “nudge” towards sustainable choices.

A man using a tablet

AFRY is participating in a research project together with Tornet, Rise and the University of Gothenburg where residents receive push notifications on their mobile phones with tips/notifications through a housing app that encourages a sustainable lifestyle. With an AI-driven personalisation of the notification based on how the recipient interacts with the notification, the system can learn which tips are liked by each user. At the time, the research project can monitor whether and how lifestyle is affected.

When it comes to nudging on digital platforms, it will of course be very important to ensure that the platform complies with digital ethics (including GDPR) and that residents are well informed about how the app works. The tups delivered must also be formulated inclusively, you cannot assume that the residents can afford to switch to an electric car or have time to spend an extra hour on the bus. (The tips are also formulated in English to be able to reach more people.) And when we try to influence people, it is of course fundamental that we do not nudge towards behaviours that provide questionable benefits. The projects has dealt with this by climate-calculating all the tips and making sure that those with high benefits come a little more often. We also want to work with a holistic approach to sustainable lifestyles, which is why there are also notices that encourages social values such as neighbourliness and enivormental benefits other than just climate benefits.

People’s behaviour is already influenced by so many different actors in society, where the underlying purpose is often to market and sell products. Why not also use it to promote and inform about a sustainable? In the age of climate change, all actors need to roll up their sleeves – and nudging via digital channels has an important role to play.

people walking and cars driving in a city during sunrise

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Therese Wernstedt - Senior Sustainability Expert, Environment and sustainability Sweden

Therese Wernstedt

Senior Sustainability Expert, Environment and sustainability Sweden

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