Friday, May 8, 2009

"Applying Behavior Analysis to Achieve Sustainability"

This symposium at the ABA International annual conference in Phoenix, will present research showing how, to paraphrase the title, to apply behavior analysis to help achieve sustainability. (This is a very timely topic, by the way, since May has been announced at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, as "National Sustainability Month", part of the 2009 Science Year).

Sustainability is a word that gets increasing media play, in business trade reports, and use in conversation and discussion these days--but what is it? Recycling? Using re-usables instead of disposables? Biking to work instead of driving?
All of those actions contribute, although the full concept of sustainability is somewhat larger.

Sustainability is the overlapping of economic, social and environmental systems that contribute to, and sustain, the quality of life in a community -- e.g., are these systems in a given community frame providing a healthy, productive, meaningful life for all community residents, present and future?

One of the earlier references to sustainability was in "Our Common Future", a report authored in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development, under charge of the United Nations. It states in Chapter 2, "sustainable development" as, "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

Definitions and goals are good starting points, but from a practical angle, what are the behaviors needed and how to achieve those? Behavior analysts at the University of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland, sought to both contribute to sustainability and study consumer behavior through,

"...projects concerned with changing consumer behavior so that energy-efficient products are purchased, enhancing recycling of domestic wastes, and reducing domestic energy consumption. Each project presents challenges in interfacing with agencies in the community and in developing appropriate methodologies. We will report our data and share our experiences".
#268 Symposium
3:00 p.m. - 4:20 p.m.
North 131 A
CSE/Applied Behavior Analysis
Applying Behavior Analysis to Achieve Sustainability
Chair: Patricia Watson (University of Ulster)
Discussant: Julian C. Leslie (University of Ulster)

Using Behavioral Interventions to Reduce Carbon Emissions by Inducing Purchasing Decisions That Have a Medium-Term Impact on Energy Use.
DEBORAH ROY (University of Ulster), Julian C. Leslie (University of Ulster)

Applied Behavior Analysis has been used with relative success to tackle a range of pro-environmental behaviors. In the United Kingdom, fuel used within the home accounts for 30% of CO2 emissions. Previous research has focused mainly on management of behaviors associated with residential energy consumption, but appliance purchase is also a behavior which has an important role in the regulation of electricity consumption. As a one-off behavior, the purchase only has to occur once to be effective in reducing energy consumption. Little behavioral research to date has systematically investigated investment or consumer-choice decisions concerning energy saving appliances. . In the first study, participants in a web-based survey were asked to make a number of hypothetical choices between purchases. They were given information about initial purchase prices and subsequent running costs over various time intervals bands for energy-saving or conventional light bulbs or electric kettles. One half of participants were exposed to pro-environmental prompts, information about the emissions impact of different choices. Results are related to the delay discounting literature, and will form the basis of a second study where an informational prompt will be used in a naturalistic study in local supermarkets, using an ABAB reversal design, to promote purchases of energy-saving appliances.
The Use of Applied Behavior Analytic Interventions in Addressing Environmental Consumption Behavior.
ANJA SCHUMANN (University of Ulster), Stephen Gallagher (University of Ulster), Julian C. Leslie (University of Ulster)

The present study compared different behavior analysis techniques aimed at encouraging recycling behavior among students living in university accommodation. Data obtained from actual measurements of recycling behavior were matched with data from a questionnaire measuring attitudes towards recycling. Different interventions such as prompts, briefing, continuous feedback and incentives were tested to compare antecedent and consequence strategies. All interventions were tested on a multiple baseline design to control for extraneous variables. The study set out to find the most suitable intervention for students to increase recycling behavior. Preliminary results suggest that usual approaches taken by Borough and City Councils (e.g., providing households with information on recycling) might not be the most suitable approach for students living in term residences. Results are discussed in relation to the theory of pro-environmental research and in relation to practical approaches to promote recycling participation within student residences.
Changing the World: Adapting Behavior Analytic Strategies to Achieve Interventions in Addressing Environmental Consumption Behavior.
JULIAN C. LESLIE (University of Ulster), Patricia Watson (University of Ulster), Deborah Roy (University of Ulster), Anja Schumann (University of Ulster)

The primary focus of behavior analysis is achieving measurable change in the behavior of individuals in controlled environments. The need to change everyday behaviors in the population at large, in order to move towards more sustainable future use of the small planet we inhabit, raises a large number of challenges for applied behavior analysis. This paper will review a number of the problems we have encountered in the last few years in venturing beyond the laboratory and clinic. These include ensuring co-operation of outside agencies, explaining the methods and goals of behavior analysis to those agencies and the wider public, selecting appropriate methodologies, conducting long term studies, and presenting findings effectively. Presentation of findings raises the question as to whether the goals of this type of research should be contributions to the scientific literature or influencing the behavior of opinion formers and policy makers.
For further reading:

Don't forget to turn off the lights.

13 days and counting...

DISCLAIMER: Personal opinion and blog, not an official outlet intended to represent ABA-International® or other official entity or organization.


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