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Moving towards sustainability is becoming more critical every day.  Many see technology as our savior.  There is certainly some truth in that, yet on its own it will never be enough. To quote from an article published on re-think, “Practitioners and scientists are starting to realize that we need to get better at turning behavioral science insights into real change for sustainability.”  In another article the authors argue that “If environmental crisis is caused by people, then people are the solution. How can we trigger change? Insights from behavioral science provide clues.” This is of course also why 'Behavioral Change' is one of Katerva's 10 awards categories.

But changing behavior is not quite as easy as changing a light bulb. So how to go about it?  Some tips can be found in a document by the Australian Conservation Foundation, yet more powerful is something called the ‘fun theory', an initiative supported by VW some years ago and based on the realization that people are much more likely to change their behavior when you make it fun to do so!  If you are more academically inclined and interested in how designers incorporate behavioral change in their products, check here.

Should you need convincing that behavioral change is indeed quite urgent, consider the following: according to the World Bank, there are 7.6 billion people in the world today. 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted annually across the globe and 1 trillion gallons of water are wasted annually in the U.S. alone. If the entire global population could save one meal and could take advantage of one 8oz glass of water – one day a year – that would equate to 10 billion lbs of food and almost half a billion gallons of water.  That’s enough to feed the global hungry population of 795 million for 3 days and quench their thirst for a day! 

Will this ever happen?


Katerva uses a definition of sustainable innovation that covers an entire spectrum of innovation from incremental to radical.

Level 1: Incremental or small, progressive improvements to existing products

Level 2: Major re-design of existing products 

Level 3: New product or service concepts to satisfy the same functional need 

Level 4: Design for a sustainable society

These 4 levels mean nothing if the masses, you, don’t accept and leverage the innovation that exists around you. Sustainable innovation requires a shift in peoples’ cognitive decision making therefore changing human behavior. 

We humans learn from watching, listening, and experiencing the environment around us. So, if your parents maintained the routine to wake up, brush their teeth, wash their face, get dressed, eat breakfast, lock the door… then you are more than likely to adopt at least some variation of their habits. What if the understanding of that routine involved more details from an early age? Brush teeth then turn water on only when ready to relieve your mouth from having to hold in the toothpaste. Even better if you realize that most toothpaste is toxic and could turn your stomach upside down if you swallowed it. Better yet, what if you didn’t use toxic paste but instead were conscious of the eco-friendly, made-from-raw-materials toothpaste that your parents provide for you because of their love and desire to keep you as safe and healthy as they can control? 

Turning off the water while brushing your teeth would save 2-3 gallons each time - pretty stunning if you know that the minimum amount of water a person needs a day is less than 2 gallons. However, this is such an incremental change that it seems unimportant, and because the amount of water wasted is difficult to quantify, people need more than just learning by example to enact a change. 

As a senior manager at Unilever described a big challenge of sustainability: “We can be as sustainable with our tea bags as we like, if people boil a full kettle of water for one cup of tea we will never win.” This touches on another method of changing human behavior and that is through information dispersal. If you never thought about this, you would not know you were wasting water, but now, you will probably consciously only make a cup’s worth next time you make tea. In the video below they have captured five levers for behavioral change.

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As far as solving world hunger goes, we don’t need to be extreme in giving all of our food away, SmartPlate by Fitly has shown that if we just track our eating more effectively, we can stay healthier and incidentally avoid food waste. By using this new product, you can continue tracking your caloric intake and track what foods you eat and when, but in a more simplified manner, allowing the technology to do the brunt of the work for you.

The Katerva 2018 Behavioral Change category winner Another company who is increasing awareness around food waste and causing especially significant impact in the restaurant business is Winnow. Winnow’s technology allows for input of what is being thrown to waste and assesses its value. The restaurants can then make decisions based on that data to plan and prepare their kitchen resources.

However, there are bigger design changes than safer toothpaste or eco-friendly teabags, and they involve more significant shifts in society. One glaring example is the playground. MagikMe “sells special playground equipment on which able-bodied and disabled children can play together.” Their goal is to facilitate “early childhood integration of the disabled” resulting in a shift in overall awareness that will hopefully lead to the disabled being able to better connect with others and be more successful members of society. Efforts like this also require the same shift in cognitive decision making as every issue we’ve discussed so far, and these are just a few of the organizations pressing for change.

So can we as a community feed the hungry for 3 days…you decide.

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