Our team found that most people were aw'are of the problem and generally agreed on the need to address it but were at an early stage of change. Their mindset and the social norms were generally not supportive of change. There was limited sense of urgency: “the problem is not affecting us right now,” there was a general belief that the problem was not their responsibility, and their actions were irrelevant because they did not have power or control over the solutions. The beliefs about potential solutions emphasized that the costs were much greater than the immediate benefits and the barriers were too great to overcome. A minority of people who were contemplating action or had already tried to do something were discouraged to resume action because of their perceived low ability to influence change.

Our targeted higher education institute is multicultural: composed of residents of St. Kitts and Nevis, people from other islands in the Caribbean, and expats from North America and Europe (including students, faculty, and staff). The prevailing social norm, how most people act when they are in a group, appeared to drive people’s behaviour regardless of their nationality. For example, students native to the United States and Canada readily engaged in unsustainable behaviours (i.e. using disposable Styrofoam containers and disposable plastic water bottles) even though such behaviours were increasingly discouraged in their home country. A complicating factor was that most people on the island did not have an intimate connection to the ocean. It became evident that promoting change in attitudes and behaviours about marine conservation and ocean pollution would be challenging due to the lack of relatability of islanders to the ocean.

Leading by Example to Promote Sustainability Values in the Prep School

A Prep School was available for children of students, faculty, and staff of this higher education institute. The norm and mindset described above were strongly held by the school’s administrators, with an emphasis in beliefs of little to no control over the solutions, along with a plethora of perceived barriers. Most of the school activities produced a substantial amount of waste, particularly from disposable plastic and Styrofoam items. The school’s administrators were open to listening to suggestions and ideas from us; however, the implementation of these alternatives was not deemed possible.

We focused on leading by example, by disseminating the positive changes resulting from the local event we organized for the 2016 One Health Day, specifically on how faculty, staff, and veterinary students responded to our call for action for making simple changes in the planning of events that would reduce the amount of waste. We highlighted the support from a local business located on the campus that agreed to start selling compostable/biodegradable food ware, an action that facilitated this change. During school events, we refused plastic and Styrofoam items, explaining our congruency with the initiatives for reducing waste in the institution. This strategy resonated with parents and teachers who were not ready for immediate action but intended to take action and prompted them to start talking about the problem and adopt some of the new behaviours being promoted. As we noticed increased responses to our call to action, we praised and commended people’s efforts and used the momentum to urge them to encourage other parents to act similarly. Once we had motivated people within the administrative structure, we used targeted questions that further motivated them to develop new ideas and lead their own initiatives. A different mindset that encouraged Prep School activities to be environmentally responsible grew. Balloon use was discouraged, disposable plastic water bottles were no longer provided, and disposable plastic or Styrofoam items were no longer used at the school. Most of the decorative items in the school were reused in subsequent events, and parents and children were encouraged to bring their own containers, plates, and cups. To facilitate this process, in any event where food was served, the school provided a small number of reusable plates and cups along with readily available water fountains.

Linking Empowerment of Women with Environmental Sustainability

The institution’s parent company created a programme for the advancement of women in the workplace across their higher education institutions. The programme intended to raise awareness about gender equality and promotion of women into leadership positions. By participating in this group, our team saw an opportunity to contribute to their cause while promoting our call to action for environmental sustainability based on the premise that gender equality is a common denominator for achieving sustainable environmental goals (UNDP, 2012).

Most of the participants from this group were local women. As a few of our team were expats, we first ensured that our participation was accepted and welcomed into this group by being active, committed, and responsible contributors to the group’s activities. We focused first on understanding how our goal of environmental sustainability was compatible with this group’s goals by focusing our initial involvement on their goals. This strategy gained their respect and allowed us to meet and interact with many participants, from which we identified or categorized the members of the group based on their readiness to change (stages 1-5 of change are shown in Figure 20.1). More importantly, we identified community leaders who embraced our call to action and became strong supporters.

The next step was to suggest the possibility for the group’s following event to generate the least amount of waste as possible, especially from Styrofoam containers. This call to action was conveyed through a blast email to all the members of the group with the following message:

I would like to propose we have a potluck as environmentally sustainable as possible!

At its core, environmental sustainability is a way to live our daily lives making sure we create the conditions that support our lives - clean and available water, safe food to eat, a healthy environment - and the lives of our kids and grandkids. even for those that are not born yet. Let’s show the power and strength of women for protecting the environment. See this link from United Nations for an example of the power of women for environmental sustainability.

Here are a couple of easy and simple ideas for this:

• Let’s bring our own plate or container along with our own silverware and cups/glasses. If bringing these from home is uncomfortable, let’s borrow them from the kitchen.

  • • Let’s avoid plastic and Styrofoam items as much as possible because these items do not biodegrade and have the potential to end up forming part of the islands of garbage floating in the oceans.
  • • Please feel free to add more suggestions.

This message was well received and as an encouraging result, no Styrofoam containers were used. People found ways of reducing waste such as using napkins instead of plates and using silverware instead of disposable food ware. To maintain momentum, we engaged the leaders of this group and wrote a formal proposal to the institution’s administration requesting funds for a “green starter kit” that included high-quality reusable mug and glass food containers that would remind members of the link between simple life choices (refuse plastic and Styrofoam) and a sustainable future. This green starter kit was a great motivation for the current members as well as an incentive for new members to join. The local leaders of the women’s empowerment group became more inclined towards the “green” mindset when planning events.

Using a Multicultural Party to Reinforce Behaviour Change - The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot is a campus-wide initiative that brings the multicultural community to celebrate diversity and inclusion with a common and effective catalyzer, namely food. For the inaugural event in 2017, we encouraged the organizer (who is also an active member of the women empowerment group) to include a “green” calling in the event’s invitation with the goal of reducing waste. We provided support by showing how reusable items could replace disposable ones and identified locally available alternatives and options.

The following year, the event organizer independently included the following sentence in the invitation: "We continue to show by example by refusing disposable items and encourage you to do your part for making this a green event.” We conducted an exchange programme for trading disposable containers (Styrofoam plates and cups) for high-quality reusable food and beverage containers. We also gave out similar products (reusable bags, metal straws, cloth grocery bags, etc.) that served as triggers to remind people of the alternative available items. During this trading, our call to action started with the phrase: “many of us are guests in this island and we have to make every possible effort for making this beautiful island healthier.” This was briefly followed by messages on the power we all have for making small changes in our daily lives, which over time lead to a positive impact for environmental conservation that ultimately makes us healthier.

This message resonated very well with the local community and helped inspire local leaders to actively advocate and promote the message further. Two years after this event, we saw' many people still using the “green” gifts from that event. The following year, we delivered a stronger call to action targeting influential colleagues (Dean, Campus Administrator, Research Center Directors, etc.) to embrace and promote reusable food ware or environmentally responsible alternatives (such as compostable food ware). We have evidence that this environmental call to action became an essential component of campus event planning, serving as an example for other campus-wide activities.


These three stories show positive outcomes and gradual changes in people’s attitudes and behaviours over the course of four years. We believe this success was due to the application of principles of behaviour change for tailoring the interventions. There were three essential guidelines that were applied across the interventions. Firstly, we motivated people on the premise that change is a process and targeted most time and resources to the people who were contemplating or taking action. These individuals quickly became supporters and promoters of the call to action. Secondly, we got involved with the target audience and met them where they were in the change process. This meant having a clear and inspiring message (or story) that could be easily adapted to resonate with people at different stages of change. To reach this goal, it was imperative to listen actively without intervening or judging to identify a person’s mindset (cognitive and emotional factors) and social norms that shape their thoughts, feelings, and actions towards the problem, the solution, and their ability (real or perceived) to make a difference. Once such factors are identified, one can briefly tell the call to action in relatable and passionate ways for inducing positive emotional and rational responses.

We encountered two main challenges to meeting people where they were. The first was the risk of misclassifying members of the target audience within the stages of change (readiness for action; Figure 20.1). When misclassification occurred, it resulted in frustration, resistance, and lack of interest because the strategies we used did not resonate with their mindset. The second challenge was that potential leaders - individuals who were advocates for environmental conservation and sustainability - tended to promote change forcefully (telling people what to do) instead of matching the recommended strategies based on the target audience’s mindset. This caused tension when these potential leaders felt unappreciated or restricted when their suggestions were not approved because of the mismatch between their proposed strategies and target audience’s mindset and cultural norms.

The focus of these interventions was to promote changes in people’s mindset (attitudes and beliefs) rather targeting individual behaviours. Focusing on positive, influential, and persuasive messages showing our rationale (our why) proved to be an effective primer for change. A small number of attitudes and beliefs determine a greater number of individual behaviours (Vaske and Manfredo, 2012); therefore, this approach prevented a patronizing and ineffective approach of “telling people what to do.” Our current focus is in maintaining momentum from these interventions to continue creating the conditions for these changes to persist and to be further promoted by local leaders, who will potentially promote the call to action in their household and community.


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