Nudge theory recommended as tool to improve air quality

A recent survey of shoppers presented with information on environmental impacts at checkout found a significant increase in Click & Collect requests. 

Online stores should do more to persuade shoppers not to use delivery services in a bid to improve air quality through a reduction in emissions, with the technique also appropriate for a range of other settings, including local authority communications. 

brown cardboard boxes on brown cardboard box

The Behavioural Insights team are well-known in the marketing, comms, sales and PR world as the experts behind the so-called nudge unit, which advises the UK Government on running awareness campaigns based on ‘nudge theory’ – the idea that making suggestions about behavioural changes, but leaving the final decision to an individual, is a far more effective way of ensuring the public acts on your messaging. 

Alongside think tank Centre for London, the team ran a project investigating how more people in the UK capital could be encouraged to walk or cycle to work. Within that, it was revealed that home deliveries accounted for 100m kilograms of CO2 emissions in the city from 2020 to 2021, which is the equivalent to heating 36,000 homes for a year, or taking 125,000 transatlantic flights from Heathrow Airport to JFK, New York. 

Suffice to say, this has a significant impact on air pollution levels, with the so-called ‘last mile’, the stage at which a parcel is sent from depot to the customer, particularly problematic. Active last miles, where people walk or cycle to collect, can help bring this down.

As such, those on the Behavioural Insights Team believe a ‘nudge’ at checkout about environmental impact is the best approach, having observed a trial which led to customers opting for Click & Collect 71% of the time when they received such a message. This compares to a control group which got no prompt and only chose the greener method in 40% of purchases. 

One key obstacle to this working nationally is proximity to Click & Collect facilities. Even in London, where population density usually means relatively short distances between homes and assets, 62% of people do not live close to collection locations. Centre for London wants this to increase to 90%. 

While the focus here is on retail, there’s a strong argument that adopting a similar nudge policy could work for other online services that involve an element of travel or delivery – even in so far as reducing physical, printed letters from a local authority in favour of digital-only options. 

‘Air pollution has devastating effects on people’s health, particularly for the most vulnerable people in cities, like children,’ said Kate Langford, Programme Director of the Health Effects of Air pollution Programme at Impact On Urban Health. ‘London is one of the most congested cities in Europe and van deliveries are expected to increase. More vans equals increased congestion, which in turn leads to higher levels of air pollution.’ 

Earlier this week, the so-called Ella’s Law, or UK Clean Air Bill, passed the House of Lords. Find our what happens next here.

Image: Claudio Schwarz


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