Make Sustainability Campaigns Stick

Using psychology to get people to act, but not necessarily care

Nathan Allen
7 min readSep 2, 2020


Photo by Spencer Watson on Unsplash

You often hear that not enough people care about climate change and because of that, the world as we know it is doomed.

But that is just not true — at least the part where people have to care. Sustainability is a behavior, not so much a mindset. Sure, if you care about the environment you are definitely more likely to act in ways that are accordant. If you are concerned with developing a campaign, you likely want people to DO something rather than just interrogate their own beliefs.

In short: you don’t need your audience to care, you just need them to act.

In what follows I will share some tips informed by psychology that I actually implemented in my own sustainable dining campaign.

Psychology of Sustainability

When designing a behavior change campaign of any kind, taking a few cues from psychology can be invaluable in terms of the resources (like time, effort, and money!) that you end up expending on a project.

One of the best resources that is both accessible and readable is psychologist Christie Manning’s The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior. It is full of many more tips than what I will share here, so give it a quick read if you wish to learn more.

Tip #1: Identify (and remove) perceived barriers to sustainable behavior

Taking some time at the beginning of any sort of campaign talking to your audience to develop a robust idea of the barriers to change is so important. I have seen so many campaigns fail, not because they were not executed beautifully — they were. The problem was the fact that there was no identification of the associated barriers and they got the target wrong.

An example from my own work would be veganism. When I was promoting plant-based diets during my internship, I brain-stormed about a million possible barriers: social pressure, lack of protein (eye roll at this point), cultural customs, diet restrictions, picky-eaters, even masculinity issues. That was what I came up with before I had spoke to any of my audience members.



Nathan Allen

writer. illustrator. manic collector of pens and notebooks. bug guy from North Carolina. see my work at