People in Sweden are quite responsible in general, with 93% of Swedish respondents in a Eurobarometer poll stating that recycling of waste is pivotal for the environment. Although convinced of this, only 69% of Swedes claim to regularly recycle their trash. Now this is a half-full/half-empty glass issue, and I am not saying that 69% is too little. In fact, I am proud of Swedes that they score so high in this. The European average is only 59%, and only a few countries top Sweden in recycling: Luxembourg (83%), France (82%), Belgium (78%), the UK (74%), Austria (71%) and Ireland (70%). But nevertheless, 69% means that at least 31% of us can do more! That is a happy message, if you ask me, there is room for improvement. All we really need to do, is improve!
Coming back to the topic of this post: Uppsala’s Bottle Bins. Uppsala saw a brilliant opportunity in adding some bottle-collecting cylinders to their normal trash bins; it provides poor people with an excellent way to collect waste and thus both earn money and help society keep clean at the same time. As you can see on the photo below, pedestrians can dispose their pant bottles (and pant is high in Sweden, about 1 kr per small container, or 10 Euro-cents). People who can use some extra money can simply take out the bottles if they see them in there, without the need to dig through a deep trash bin (and sometimes leaving a messy sight).
This is a nudge that changes something in the physical environment of the person who engages in behaviour. In fact, it does so on two occasions. Firstly it suggests people that it is better to drop their flasks and bottles in the recycle cilinder, rather than tossing them in the common trash bin. Secondly, it allows people who are looking for these bottles as a way of income to collect them without having to go head-first into dirty trash bins!
If you want to check out these bins, by the way, they are still around at the Uppsala train station. If you’re around, go ahead and donate a bottle or two.
Welcome to the new blog site of the Swedish Nudging Network. We are happy to see you found us. Are you familiar with nudging? Nudging, is it the solution to all our problems or the greatest joke in behavioural science since Milgram* and colleagues got people to stare into the distance, for no apparent reason other than that others seemed to be doing it? It is easy to be excited about it, but nudging people is not a panacea for all the world’s problems. It will not solve wars nor will it feed the poor, but what it can do, is help people in good behaviour in their everyday lives. That is great, right? But what is it, then, to nudge? The term nudging as it was invented by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein is all about making small changes in a person’s choice environment (we often like to call it choice architecture). This choice environment can be physical (the place you are standing at, the items around you, the view in a distance) as mental (the memories of good old days, your identity, or knowledge about something) and social (who is watching, what would they think, do you care?). All these things affect behaviour, and they do so, always. There is no choice nor behaviour that does not have an choice architecture (just as there is no building that has no ‘real’ architecture). Here is where nudging comes into play. Nudging is trying to facilitate better behaviour (for health, society and the environment) by changing the choice architecture. Pivotal (and we cannot emphasize this enough) is that the options remain open. If a so-called choice architect decides to remove A and B from an ABC choice, then he is not nudging, he is coercing. Nudging would be to make it more likely for any individual to choose one over the others, but always without infringing on a person’s own freedom to choose.
Here ends the first lesson on nudges. We hope that the reader will scroll down and enjoy the many posts that we will put on here. They are all related to nudging, and will hopefully enlighten and inspire both the expert and the lay-person. Enjoy and never hesitate to give your feedback! Kind regards on behalf of the nudging team of Sweden Britt
* Milgram and colleagues, they did an experiment to see what people would do if they see others behave in certain ways. They posted an individual on a streetcorner and had him stare at the sky. Little happened. They then had five people stare at the sky, same point, same time of the day. What happened? All of the sudden, a lot of pedestrians started staring at the sky as well! Social proof. Useful for something? Feel free to let us know how you would use this. Help us inspire