September 8, 2022

How to Drive Sustainable Behaviour Change in Your Business and Employees

The first requirement of behaviour change is to reduce the burden of action for the greatest number. Read this article to find out how you can effectively drive behavioural change in business to accelerate progress pathways towards Net Zero.

The evidence is clear, to achieve Net Zero goals, in the UK’s case reaching Net Zero by 2050, emissions must be halved in the next decade. The need to adopt more sustainable ways of living is widely acknowledged, yet progress is slow. Employers are in a unique position to make significant contributions to sustainable development given their strong influence on consumer and supplier behaviours.

Breaking from previous dominant messaging, the onus of behavioural change should not be solely placed on the individual but also on upstream and middle stream interventions, targeting contextual factors and choice environments to optimise sustainable behavioural transitions for the greatest number.

Why is behaviour change important?

It is critical to highlight that individuals are rarely the major emission contributors within businesses. Typically, much more material emissions come from energy use, sourcing of products, and logistics.

This doesn’t mean that shifts in behaviours can’t be incredibly valuable when delivering a Net Zero strategy. According to a report by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC), 62% of future emission reductions rely on behaviour change, 53% of this figure relates to tech adoption whilst the remaining 9% relates to reduced demand for carbon-intensive activities.

5 Key principles to initiate and sustain sustainable behaviour change in business
Principle 1: Lead by Example

Actions can powerfully shape perceptions of normative and appropriate behaviour by signaling the importance, validity, credibility, and moral authority behind low carbon behaviour. It can also heavily dictate the choice environment for employees and your company’s wider community by defining a sustainable framework.

For example, establishing a ‘green office’ that considers environmental impacts to be at the heart of its functioning, is key to setting a sustainability standard and culture. Your workspace should reflect the company’s values by committing to zero carbon and zero waste measures.

Principle 2: Create an enabling environment

According to Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler, the first rule of behaviour change is to ‘make it easy’. As it stands, low carbon behaviours are often more costly, less convenient, less available, less enjoyable, and rarely the default choice. Using businesses to create an enabling environment where the easy option is the right option is crucial.

With that in mind there are four key areas that businesses should focus on when driving sustainable behavioural change:

  1. Reduce the hassle factors
  2. Provide easy substitutes for undesirable entrenched behaviours
  3. Make the green choice the default where possible
  4. Timing, consider when an intervention is most relevant and the point at which behaviour is easiest and most open to change.

For example, offer a default green pension plan to all employees. Pensions are powerful. According to Make My Money Matter, having a green pension is 21x more effective at reducing your carbon footprint than stopping flying, going vegetarian, and switching to a green energy provider.

Principle 3: Leverage social norms and visibility

Target specific low-carbon behaviours and establish sustainable actions to be more normative and socially desirable by increasing visibility and leveraging social accountability. Social norms are a vital tool for promoting pro-environmental behaviour but their effectiveness hinges on positive approaches to avoid demonising and castigating people.

For example, spotlight and reward employees who participate in green commutes. Transport accounts for around a third of UK carbon emissions, with 15% of all trips being traveled for commuting purposes. Communicating the prevalence, ease, and co-benefits of greener commutes engages and empowers your workforce to similarly consider a green transport transition.

Principle 4: Financial incentives

Drive down the cost barriers through financial incentives and disincentives. It is important to consider fairness when designing incentives to address the biggest cost barriers among those least able to pay.

For example:

  1. Subsidising a train first policy for employees at work and on holiday
  2. Subsidising employee switches to green energy

Such initiatives are relatively small investments for businesses to make in comparison to individuals.

Perks and benefits should also be considered, PWC research shows that 45% of the FTSE 100 companies have integrated ESG targets into their annual bonus scheme. By aligning profit and planet there is an increased vested awareness and interest in the environment.

Principle 5: Make sure your Net-Zero story is a compelling one

A compelling, clear, truthful, and positive narrative with clear asks can be a great mobiliser.

‘Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal’ —Harvard University Professor Howard Gardner.

Three key considerations when defining your Net-Zero narrative:

  1. Positive narratives outperform negative messaging, increasing engagement and adherence to pro-environment behaviour.
  2. Attaching narratives to clear asks is important to mitigate helplessness or inertia.
  3. Clear communication about what the Net Zero transition means for your employees and the associated value that can be derived will increase uptake

The best change stories provide all workers with an overall understanding of how their work relates to the organisation’s overall vision. Research from McKinsey found that senior leadership teams that align on their change narrative and share it widely increase the odds of the transformation’s success six times over.

In truth, the scale of change required to meet Net Zero targets is a daunting prospect. By focusing less on individual behaviour and more on cultivating sustainable choice environments, businesses can optimise behaviour transitions towards a Net Zero future.

This article was informed by BEIS’s ‘Net Zero: principles for successful behaviour change initiatives’ report.

To find out more about how Altruistiq could support your business in its sustainability transition, drop us a line at

Altruistiq is a climate software company providing businesses with the technology infrastructure to measure, manage and abate their sustainability impact.

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