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What is nudging to promote sustainable behavior?

Nudging to promote sustainable behavior - What is it exactly?

What exactly is meant by nudging toward sustainable behavior? The constantly growing and highly visible Environmental problems of our time no longer allow for two opinions: we need to rethink and adapt our consumer behavior. The longer we wait, the harder the change will be. Nudges can make a significant contribution to people acting in a more environmentally friendly way.

In this article, I would therefore like to provide you with everything you need to know about nudging to promote sustainable behavior. From the definition to reasons, examples, measures and criticism. Let's go!

In advance you will find here a short Table of contents about the contribution:

  1. Definition
  2. Reasons
  3. Examples
  4. Criticism
  5. Measures
  6. Closing words

What is meant by nudging in relation to sustainability and environmental protection?

With the help of nudging (also called "green nudging") you get people to adopt a certain, more sustainable behavior in the simplest possible way, either once or permanently. The people involved often do not even notice this influence because it is usually very subtle. Nudges are in themselves political instruments and measures that are based on psychological findings and are able to steer a person's decision-making towards more sustainable action.

They function primarily through individual, psychological factors such as self-interest, short-term thinking, status orientation, social imitation or sensory perception.₁

Why is nudging necessary at all?

Nudging - Influencing sustainable behavior

Nudging is therefore intended to positively change our consumer behavior. But why do we need to be "manipulated" at all? We should first answer this question briefly and concisely.

1) Because we like to do things the way we are used to doing them

We humans are Creatures of habit. The longer we have displayed a certain behavior, the more difficult it is for us to change as a rule. Convenience ("I've always done it that way") and solidified Beliefs ("You need meat to be strong") are further hurdles that we first have to overcome in order to consciously change our own behavior. This is another reason why nudging to promote sustainable consumer behavior is so incredibly important.

2) Because we have to solve environmental problems

Improvements in the individual decisions of each person are also essential in order to make the most effective, positive changes with the simplest means possible. in the fight against massive ecological and social challenges of our time.

3) Because we need to protect our health

It appears that a consistent decoupling of prosperity and nature consumption is needed in order to protect ourselves from endangering ourselves. After all, we are inexorably destroying the only planet on which we can live. Polluted waters, polluted air, infertile soils, bee mortality, antibiotic resistance... we must not make the mistake of believing that we are the only living beings who can remain healthy in an unhealthy environment. But We do not have much time leftin order to accelerate the social rethinking process. Nudges are therefore a welcome accelerator of sustainable behavior.

Which nudging approaches can be implemented?

Bicycle sign Nudge

Now we know why nudging can be so important for our future. But how can people's behavior be changed in practice using simple means? The types of nudges are basically informal, structural or supportive in nature.₃ Here I will introduce you to some of them:

  1. Info, warnings, seals and signals (e.g. sign with "climbing stairs is healthy" next to an escalator or warnings on cigarettes).
  2. Simplification (e.g. food traffic light with content of health-relevant nutrients or uncomplicated subsidy application forms for energy-efficient construction)
  3. Convenience & Access (e.g. more vegan food in the supermarket).
  4. Design of presets / defaults (e.g. printer default setting to "double-sided" printing)
  5. Social norms / Social conformism (e.g. information on average energy consumption of other households)
  6. Increase in salience / conspicuousness (e.g. organic products on supermarket shelves at eye or reach height or red and green bicycle lanes in the city)
  7. Self commitment / Confessions (e.g. Veganuary or competitions on the beach, such as "who collects the most garbage in 5 minutes")
  8. Consequences of past behavior (e.g. assessment of energy consumption in the last year by the electricity provider)
  9. Expected errors (e.g. explanatory board above waste containers so that the Waste separation carried out correctly will)
  10. Memories (e.g. push message to cell phone if minimum step count of 10,000 steps per day has not yet been reached at 6 p.m.)

There are, of course, countless other effective types of nudging. But I wanted to mention at least the most important ones here.

What other examples are there of nudging to promote sustainable behavior?

Now you already have some Examples of classic nudging for more sustainability and environmental protection. I would like to add to the list here to give you a better feel for the options available to us for general, positive behavioral adjustments:

  • Cheaper coffee if you drink it on the spot and not "to go"
  • Climate-friendly dishes highlighted on restaurant menu
  • Distance lines to contain a pandemic at the supermarket checkout counter
  • Green electricity as a preselected setting for new customers with electricity providers
  • Arrangement of food display in a canteen
  • Waste-preventing stickers on letterboxes (see Unsubscribe from advertising by mail)
  • Water saving shower head in hotel room
  • Free public transport trial tickets for car owners

What other nudging types or examples can you think of? I look forward to your input in the comments!

Why is nudging criticized?

At first glance, nudging has something "judgmental" about it and "manipulative". It suggests that many people would never come up with the idea of adapting their behaviour in an environmentally friendly way on their own - and that they would therefore have to be guided by higher-level institutions and organizations. So instead of BEING yourself, you would do what you SHOULD do. Definitely a memorable aspect.

But basically, the aim of nudging is simply to have a positive effect on society and our environment. In my opinion, ethically justifiable nudging must therefore Absolutely transparent as well as as informative and self-explanatory as possible be It Furthermore, freedom of choice must not be restricted under any circumstances and should make it recognizable that the "behavioral proposal" is not only for oneself, but also for the Wellbeing of the company serves.₄

Nudges are neither tough regulations nor economic incentives. They leave people free to choose, but may provide the decisive nudge to protect the environment in which all people live together.

Nudging - The final nudge into sustainable living!

Of course, not all decisions can be nudged! And in addition to sensible nudging approaches, comprehensive consumer education in the area of sustainability is also needed in order to To make consumer behavior in our society more environmentally friendly in a targeted manner. But we can say that honest, future-oriented nudging that still gives consumers a choice promotes positive change in our society.

Finally, I would like to give you a few further articles on topics that are also to be supported by nudging:

Do you have any questions, suggestions or your own experiences with nudging to promote sustainable behavior? Then I look forward to your comment!

Stay sustainable,

Christoph from CareElite - Plastic-free living

PS.: Look with pleasure still something in the sustainable knowledge blog around. There you can find out, for example, what the Difference between weather and climate is. Have fun!

₁ Van Vugt (2014): The evolutionary psychology of leadership, p.4.

₂ Federal Environment Agency: Nudge approaches to sustainable consumption, available at, p.19.

₃ Federal Environment Agency: Nudge approaches to sustainable consumption, available at, p.28 f.

₄ Richard Thaler: The Power of Nudges, for Good and Bad. In: The New York Times. October 31, 2015.

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* Links with asterisks are so-called Affiliate linksIf you click on it and buy something, you automatically and actively support my work with, as I receive a small share of the proceeds - and of course nothing changes in the product price. Many thanks for your support and best regards, Christoph!

Christoph Schulz

Christoph Schulz

I'm Christoph, an environmental scientist and author - and here at CareElite I'm campaigning against plastic waste in the environment, climate change and all the other major environmental problems of our time. Together with other environmentally conscious bloggers, I want to give you tips & tricks for a naturally healthy, sustainable life as well as your personal development.

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