EIt was only in October that the EU Parliament decided to tighten the climate targets again – so the German government has to step up when it comes to climate protection. Unfortunately, however, politics mainly relies on bans and laws that can be creatively circumvented and hardly sanctioned. Not to mention the often lack of accuracy.
Climate protection is also easier and cheaper, as behavioral economics shows us. The key words are: information, incentives and innovation. For around two years now, Fridays for Future has been drawing attention to the urgent ecological challenges of our time around the world. The activists have increased the political pressure to act and have drawn attention to the urgency of climate protection – with success. Public attention and thus also the information available for our environment have never been more extensive.
Investors pay attention to sustainability, and employees consciously look for companies that act responsibly. Consumers also want more and more green products. So far, so climate-friendly. But this desire is not reflected in people’s buying behavior.
There is a big gap, also known as the “Mind-Behavior-Gap”, between the green conscience and the actual behavior. Behavioral economics helps consumers behave the way they want, taking into account their long-term interests. And the best thing about it: It costs almost nothing.
New year’s resolutions are soon forgotten
In order to convince people of measures by providing information, it is not helpful to have long and legally correctly formulated guidelines, but only good communication through simple and understandable language – this is shown by knowledge of behavioral economics. Good communication also means identification, for example when the victims of climate change are specifically identified.
People are more likely to want to help victims of a natural disaster or climate change if they have a name and a face. In connection with a story and a concrete benefit, people are more likely to want to solve problems. The prerequisite for this strategy is that the government trust its citizens, and studies show that the vast majority of people can be trusted more than expected.
In addition to the information, incentives are needed. Most New Year’s resolutions are forgotten by the end of January at the latest. With small changes to the decision-making architecture, such as adapting the status quo, much better, lasting success can be achieved than with big visions and the expectation that we will behave rationally.
Two examples from everyday life: If someone can only get the bike out of the garage if the car has been pulled out beforehand, the person will continue to use the car. However, if he parks the bike in front of the car, the person will overcome that moment of decision that overshadows long-term goals.
View of the electricity consumption of the neighbors
Even simple rules of thumb, which were laid down in an empty state, make it easier to make a decision under time pressure or in a hungry, excited state that is characterized by the desire to buy – for example in the supermarket: instead of comparing and weighing up every time whether organic or conventional meat ends up in the shopping cart, stipulate the simple rule that you always buy organic meat. When money is tight, buy less meat and buy more vegetables. This is how you can do good for animals, the climate and yourself.
Setting priorities is also extremely important here, otherwise excessive demands and weak will will follow. Who CO2 If you want to save, you should check where the individual climate damage is greatest and start where it hurts the least and helps the most. It is particularly nonsensical to sit in a plane or SUV with a guilty conscience. Because that doesn’t help anyone and only creates dissatisfaction.
Many people have a distorted view of themselves, they overestimate themselves: They consider themselves more moral than other people and are then less critical when assessing their own behavior. These social comparison processes can be used consciously, for example by showing how much electricity the neighborhood uses on the electricity bill.
Instead of only being shown this once a year, this can also be shown on a daily basis with an energy consumption traffic light. Thanks to this playful approach, children learn that climate protection can also be fun and does not have to be associated with a guilty conscience. Today we were better than yesterday – or than the neighbors.
In addition to these gentle and voluntary measures for more sustainability, there must be tough financial incentives, such as the CO, which will apply from the new year2-Tax. In addition to information and incentives, long-term change requires an important point: Framework conditions that promote innovation must give companies the opportunity to develop environmentally friendly technologies. Because only with prohibitions, moralization and pillory will the conflicts between economy and ethics not be overcome.
The author is head of the Competence Area Behavioral Economics and Business Ethics at the Institute of German Economics (IW).