Behaviour change feels like the holy grail in sustainability communications. We all want it: Wouldn’t it be nice if people just stopped acting in such a self- and planet-destroying manner?

Yet, very few of us know how to get there – and even less have ever fully achieved it.

As well-meaning humans that want to solve a problem, we like models that can guide us forward – and researchers, practitioners and theorists are happy to supply them. Here are a few models – feel free to pick, choose and combine, and above all: to adapt them to your reality.

Logic, Emotion and Flow
Even if economists like to think otherwise, Homo Sapiens is not a rational species. Reason often leads us to being stuck when trying to make big changes in our lives and our world. Gut feelings and emotions are much more important – but they also like to prioritize short-term satisfaction over long-term prosperity. Sensible defaults can help us to make better decisions. A good question to ask can be: “What’s already working, and how can we do more of it?”

Read further:

  • Heath & Heath (2010): Switch – How to change things when change is hard
  • Thaler & Sunstein (2008): Nudge – Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness
  • Jackson & McKergow (2002): The Solutions Focus – Making coaching and change simple

Values, Frames and Purpose
Ideas spread in mysterious ways – they are never value-neutral, and thus influence the attitudes we hold and how we act. Through a conscious use of language (and frames), we can activate the values that are supportive of our intended change in others – and reduce the spread of ideas that are less helpful. Oftentimes, deep change needs us to become still, connect and be present before we can act. A good question is: “What is the question behind the question?”

Read further:

  • Lakoff (2004): Don’t think of an elephant – Know your values and frame the debate
  • Holmes, Blackmore, Hawkins (2011): The Common Cause Handbook – A Guide to Values and Frames
  • Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, Flowers (2004): Presence – Exploring profound change in people, organizations and society

Change in Action
Many people are applying these ideas to sustainability (and you should probably do, too). Here are a few reports and books if you want to read more about the applications.


  • Jones & De Meyere (2009): Terra Reversa – De transitie naar rechtvaardige duurzaamheid
  • Hopkins (2011): The Transition Companion – Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times
  • Senge (2010): The Necessary Revolution – How Individuals and Organisations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World


Which models for behaviour change do you find useful?

Models for behaviour change towards sustainability

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