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Nudge Theory

Have you heard of nudge theory? It’s a method used to promote behaviour change introduced by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their book: Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, in 2008.


Nudge Theory is based on the idea that by shaping an environment (choice architecture), you can influence the likelihood that one option is chosen over another. The premise is based on an individual maintaining the freedom in their choice and feeling in control of the decisions they make.


In choice architecture, we can build an environment to prompt behaviour change through visual design, design of interaction, interface elements and language. This is key to consider when you are making efforts to reduce your carbon emissions, as the changes you may need to make to your event design or processes to meet emissions targets can sometimes ruffle a few feathers!


Perhaps the next stage on your carbon emissions reductions plan is to reduce the red meat served to delegates at your event. Maybe you need to persuade a rather traditional group of event stakeholders to implement a plant-based menu at their event, despite attendees being used to a menu including beef and chicken. To help influence their decision making, we can employ some of these considerations:

  • Visual: could you design a menu that looks attractive and artfully describes the delicious new options?

  • Interaction: can you provide a tasting experience for your stakeholders to engage with the menu?

  • Interface: when sharing menu ideas via a survey, can you place the plant-based options higher in the grouping to make them the first choices read?

  • Language: in your menus, can you use gorgeously descriptive language to paint a picture of the food and engage some of their senses?


Let's try another example, perhaps you're trying to influence delegates to choose a more sustainable mode of transport, rather than everyone driving a car to attend your event.

  • Visual: could you design a map of how to access your venue that incorporates public transportation methods?

  • Interaction: could you partner with local public transport services to offer competitive incentives for them to travel on their service? Or perhaps you can plan a group walk from a train station or nearby place of interest to your venue to encourage social interaction?

  • Interface: could you start the conversation at the point of RSVP or registration and ask attendees about their travel plans?

  • Language: can you explain the benefits to your audience, what will they value most - health benefits, environmental benefits, social benefits? You must keep this attractive and accessible.

Sometimes we do need to settle on a compromise to minimise disruption. However, that compromise will make it easier to influence further change next time: progress is much more valuable than perfection, and much easier to achieve!


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