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New UNEP publication “The Little Book of Green Nudges” provides campus leaders across the world new tools to make their schools more sustainable


Nairobi, 01 September 2020 – The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched a new publication, The Little Book of Green Nudges, which aims to inspire up to 200 million students around the globe to adopt environmentally friendly habits and greener lifestyles.


The book is UNEP’s first on behavioural science and nudge theory, which focuses on human actions and how to change them, and was drafted with The Behavioural Insights Team and GRID-Arendal. It contains 40 ready-made nudges – simple measures that make it easier to make green choices – which university campuses can deploy to encourage students and staff to embrace more sustainable behaviours. Nudging can be a powerful tool at universities, especially when deployed alongside strategies like decarbonizing and divesting from fossil fuels. UNEP will be sharing insights from the publication at the World Academic Summit with leaders of some of the world’s top universities.


The Little Book of Green Nudges contains evidence-based guidance on implementing nudges, centered around techniques such as resetting default options, changing the framing of choices, and harnessing social influence. It also includes case studies of nudging interventions rolled out at universities from Thailand to Kenya, Finland and Colombia.


Examples of nudges recommended in the book include:

  • Food: Use appealing descriptions for plant-based dishes, for example “spicy chickpea curry”. A study in a university cafeteria found that describing vegetables in indulgent terms resulted in 25 per cent more diners choosing them.
  • Recycling: Make recycling bins eye-catching and easy to use. One study found that bins with specialized lids increased the recycling rate for beverage containers by 34 per cent.
  • Waste: In cafeterias, offer smaller plates and no trays, to discourage food waste. A study conducted in a university dining hall found that going trayless led to a significant decrease in solid waste.
  • Transport: Encourage cycling by making it easier to park bicycles, while at the same time making it more of a hassle to park cars, for instance by requiring people to frequently reapply for car parking permits.
  • Sharing: Set up a system to share leftover food from meetings or events. A group of students at one university set up a food-sharing group that has prevented more than 7,000 kg of food from going to waste.


UNEP is collaborating with higher education institutions around the world to pilot nudging on campuses. Already 20 universities have joined the programme, including the University of Chile, the University of Nairobi, the University of Tsukuba in Japan, and the University of California at Berkeley. Many more are set to join up in the months ahead.


“Universities are the source of so much knowledge that students will continue to utilize throughout their lives – instilling sustainable habits and values should be a key part of this education, with the potential to shift to cleaner, greener societal behaviours,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said. “Changing behaviour is critical if we are to stay within our planetary boundaries. We invite higher education institutions across the world to join us in employing green nudges on their campuses.”


David Halpern, Chief Executive of The Behavioural Insights Team, said: “Behavioural science research has shown how effective major life events such as starting university are for establishing new routines and habits which can often last a lifetime. It’s been really exciting to work with UNEP and GRID-Arendal on creating this series of easily achievable but powerful behaviour change ideas that will help students and their places of learning deliver major changes to their environmental and sustainability impacts both now and far into the future.”


“At Yale we have seen first-hand how powerful nudges can be. As highlighted in our case study, we were able to improve our recycling rates through some simple measures. We are sure that The Little Book of Green Nudges will be useful to universities all across the world who are looking for creative ways to enhance sustainability on their campuses,” said Lindsay Crum, Senior Manager, Data Analysis & Program Management at Yale University, one of the programme’s pilot universities.


With COVID-19 forcing a major rethink in higher education, redesigning processes and routines to make their campuses safer, this is a strategic time to make them more sustainable too by incorporating green nudges in their schools. Nudges have been shown to be particularly successful when they are introduced at timely moments of change.


Adopting green nudges could also make universities more desirable to prospective students who are looking to attend institutions that share their values. A recent survey found that 86 per cent of first-year students in the UK want their higher education institutions to actively incorporate and promote sustainable development.


GRID-Arendal Managing Director Peter Harris said: “Nudges are an important tool in our toolbox to help us cut carbon emissions, curb waste and encourage adoption of more sustainable diets and modes of travel. Seemingly small shifts can have dramatic impacts.”


Visit unep.org/nudges to learn more.


NOTES TO EDITORS


About the UN Environment Programme
UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.


About The Behavioural Insights Team

The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) is one of the world’s leading behavioural science organizations, working around the world to improve people’s lives. Through its teams in the UK, France, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, BIT works in partnership with governments, local authorities, businesses, and NGOs in over 30 countries, often using simple changes to tackle major policy problems and deliver improved public services and social outcomes. It was established by the UK government in 2010, and in 2014 became an independent social purpose company, owned by the Cabinet Office, innovation charity Nesta, and BIT employees.


About GRID-Arendal

GRID-Arendal is a non-profit environmental communications centre that transforms environmental data into innovative, science-based information products and provides capacity-building services, with the aim of strengthening management capacity and motivating decision-makers to make positive change.


For more information, please contact:

Keishamaza Rukikaire, Head of News and Media, UN Environment Programme

Sam Barratt, Chief of the Youth, Education and Advocacy Unit, UNEP, +44 7909836139

Richard O'Brien, Head of Communications, BIT

Lisa Hymas, Senior Communications Officer, GRID-Arendal, +47 404 06 130 and +1 206-853-2673

Release date: 01 Sep 2020

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