There’s a brochure for that...

How do you get people to recycle, to compost, to buy compact fluorescent light bulbs, to buy less? The usual approach is to produce a brochure, and maybe, if your budgets allow it, have an advertising campaign.

This approach has some underlying assumptions. We think the problem is that people just don’t know about our program, or about how to compost, or about how much money they can save if they buy more efficient light bulbs. We assume that once people know, especially about things that they can save money doing, they will automatically start changing their behaviour.

We assume a strong link between awareness and behaviour change. If everyone knew what to recycle, they would all be doing it. We assume an even stronger link between attitude and behaviour change. If we believe that waste reduction and recycling is important, then we will be carrying out activities that reflect that belief.

The truth is, it just ain’t so. Because nearly everyone believes that this is the way the world works — if we could just make people aware, if we could just change attitudes, all our problems would be solved — it’s hard for us to accept that the reality is something different.

Real world program failures and research demonstrate that extensive advertising and positive attitudes don’t necessarily lead to behaviour change. One study showed no differences in attitudes toward recycling between those who recycled and those who did not. A California utility spent more on advertising the benefits of adding insulation to low-income housing than it would have cost to upgrade the insulation in the targeted houses (

Advertising works in the market world because, for the most part, it’s not asking people to change their behaviour to any extent, just to change the brand of a product they’re already going to buy. Asking people to set up their homes for recycling, to start composting, to work at reducing waste, water and energy does require people to change how they do things.

Community-based social marketing (CBSM) techniques (see have been proven effective in behaviour change. These include identifying the barriers that prevent change and applying behaviour change tools to try to remove those barriers. CBSM relies heavily on personal contact, as this has been shown to be the most effective way to reach people. Think about the last time you considered making a change. Was it because of a brochure or because someone told you about it?

[Source: May 2007 WasteWatch ]