Individuals who are Masters of Change

la caduta di una goccia in una distesa d'acqua genera una serie di cerchi concentrici

“All that we do is only a drop in the ocean, but if we didn’t then the oceans would have one drop less”. Beyond this metaphor, this aphorism of Mother Teresa of Calcutta invites us to reflect on the role that each individual plays in the community. One of the areas in which this role tends to be underestimated is that of environmental protection and the fight against climate change.

Performative environmentalism is the expression with which the environmentalism of the actions performed daily at an individual level has been baptized: separate recyclables correctly, use of less automobiles, consume less meat. Despite having entered the consciousness and behaviours of many of us, this approach is often hampered by a kind of “collective inertia” which leads each to trust in the ecological conscience of the other, in the unfounded belief that the other will implement ecological and environmentally correct behaviours (in our place). But how can we be sure?

As social animals we are strongly influenced by social proof: seeing that “the other” undertakes environmentally sustainable choices and behaviors also pushes us to make them. We avoid what the other avoids, we choose what the other chooses. For Example: some utilities operating in the energy sector have been able to stimulate the reduction of their customers’ consumption sending them “comparative” bills that compare the consumption in their home with the average in the neighborhood. Applying the results of the experiment carried out by the American psychologist Robert Cialdini, some hotels have managed to increase the reuse of towels among customers indicating to them the percentage of customers who had already done so. This herd effect appears to be a very powerful lever for change in the environmental sector.

In addition to conformism of behaviors, individuals are more inclined to make environmentally sustainable choices if their impact is measurable. To give an example related to the impact of our food, the Mexican chain Chipotle indicates in its own menu the environmental impact of the ingredients used to produce their own dishes considering parameters such as saved water or CO2 emitted. From this same “quantifying” need, special calculators were born that measure the amount of carbon dioxide that each person releases into the atmosphere: even the Global Foot print Network calculator calculates the overshoot day of each. Even savers can measure the environmental impact of your investment choices.

In conclusion, measuring the impact of individual behaviours and observing the virtuous choices of others seem excellent antidotes to a powerful environmental bias: thinking that climate change is too big a phenomenon to be influenced by everyone’s behaviour. Individual actions add up to create trends, and trends result in cultural changes. And what the environmental debate needs is a major cultural shift.