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Promoting Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing - page 9 / 12





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Promoting Sustainable Behavior


“information only” condition were provided with an information packet on effi- cient water use. Compared to baseline measurements, observation of residents indicated that those householders who were visited by cyclists decreased watering by 54%, whereas those in the “information only” control group increased lawn watering by 15%. Further, watering lawns for longer than 1 hour decreased by 66% when householders were visited by a cyclist, whereas it increased by 96% in the other condition. In total, this program cost $88 (Canadian) to deliver per household, for a total program cost of $80,000. Durham Region calculates that the achieved reduction in peak water consumption allowed 250 new homes to be serviced with a savings in water plant development costs of $945,000.


In the experience of the author, psychologists are most likely to have an influ- ence in the area of program design. That is, program planners are receptive to tech- niques that they can employ easily, such as the use of commitment strategies or vivid communications, into the delivery of their programs (see Bator & Cialdini, this issue, for further examples). The other components of community-based social marketing—identifying behaviors and their barriers, piloting, and evaluation—are far less likely to be utilized. It is useful to reflect on why program planners are less likely to incorporate other central aspects of sound program design and delivery.

Although identifying barriers is a critical step in deciding whether it is wise to attempt to promote a specific behavior as well as craft a social marketing strategy, significant pressures exist to skip this step. Indeed, in a recent review of Canadian environmental programs, most programs were found not to identify barriers prior to developing strategies (Kassirer & McKenzie-Mohr, 1998). A variety of reasons exist for not identifying barriers. Three of the most common include

  • Program planners are likely to believe that the barriers to an activity are already well known.

  • Most programs must be delivered within a short period of time, which makes conducting barrier research a challenge.

  • The organizations that deliver these programs suffer from financial constraints that make additional work difficult to justify.

Social psychological research suggests that we readily form personal theories regarding the behavior of others and then search selectively for information that confirms our beliefs. This suggests that program planners are apt to believe that they already fully understand the barriers to an activity, independent of whether they actually do. Although as psychologists we may not be able easily to persuade them that their personal theories may be in error (particularly when programs are not evaluated and, therefore, do not provide feedback on their efficacy to their

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