Friday, 28 November 2008

The New Default

Henry Hicks at Futerra picked up on the presumed consent for organ donation debate yesterday, in this piece. Henry explored the idea of defaults as a driver for behaviour change and as a tool in business, giving some good examples (such as rolling contracts) in the process. The final example given, that of Sainsbury's changing the default for plastic bags in their stores. Old default: loads of bags at the end of the checkout, New default: Cashier must deal out teh bags one by one. Henry's insticntw as that this would reduce plastic bag usage - I'm inclined to agree.

This article and my subsequent trip to Sainsbury's in Cardiff city centre yesterday on the way home has really crystallised my thinking on a key element of behaviour change for sustainability. I didn't have any carrier bags on me when I went into Sainsbury's yesterday and sure enough the cashier said 'do you need a bag' - I did, I really did, given the other stuff I was carrying. More importantly, as that bag was handed to me I felt how precious it was. For a moment, I felt like the scum of the earth and I'd say that this represents a successful shift of defaults. I should have had a shopping bag on my person and I normally do - the default just reinforces this in my case but should stimulate such a realisation in the minds of others oblivious to the scurge of the plastic bag - it would help if the plastic bags carried messages informing customers as to why they shouldn't be used.

Anyway, I'm on the look/think-out for more existing and potential default shifts and triggers to sustainable behaviour. Here's a few world changers for nothing:
- Petrol Stations: What if every petrol pump had a sign saying 'If you had a (insert name of top 5 efficient cars), a full tank would cost you xxx, if you had no car you wouldn't even have to be here"
- Steakhouses: Instead of serving a beef steak, steakhouses could serve a beanburger style, vegetable steak product, unless customers specifically asked for a 'beef steak'. Beef is extremely resource intensive in its production you see - once customers had got over the fact they weren't eating beef, but beans instead - a sizeable number would decide that the low carbon alternative was the way forward. Maybe not.
- Housing: On buying a house (new or old), lenders would be required to ensure the property was brought up to a reasonable level of energy effciency, potentially lending extra, match funded energy efficiency sums to buyers on the proviso that they immediately improved the efficiency of the house.

Best go and get on the Eurostar, off to Paris and as we all know, the train is the new default for this journey.

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