Getting people to stop driving alone takes more than just building better infrastructure.
When you wake up in the morning, you probably don’t assess every transportation option available to you. Many people just hop in their car without thinking about it. (Which explains why commuting is people’s most entrenched transportation habit, and the hardest to break.)
But changing transportation habits is more important now than ever. The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and it’s private cars – not airplanes or trucks – that’s driving this pollution.
Yet our heating climate isn’t enough to get people out of cars and onto bikes or public transportation. (If it were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.) The only way to motivate people to change their behavior is to lead with the personal benefits, says Doug McKenzie-Mohr, the founder of the concept of “community-based social marketing.”
Marketing across the board attempts to change behavior. But the goal of social marketing is for people to adopt socially beneficial behaviors, like recycling and driving alone less often. This is done through behavior modeling, not just educational campaigns.
So here’s what a social marketing campaign with the goal of getting people to bike to work would look like, as told by McKenzie-Mohr earlier this month at the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference in Washington, DC:
People first need an intention to bike to work. Different segments of the population might already have this (such as environmentally-conscious people or, say, the Mobility Lab team), but everybody needs one. McKenzie-Mohr suggests leading with personal benefits, like improved health, and then following up with societal benefits, like lowering carbon footprints.
Lead with personal benefits, not societal benefits.
Here’s another trick McKenzie-Mohr uses. Framing arguments like this: “I didn’t bike to work until recently myself, but since I started it’s improved my health and stress levels. Let me tell you more about it.”
Intention is something that many transportation advocates rightfully focus on, but it’s only one piece in the “behavior chain” that, with all the pieces together, can help people actually change their behavior. Here’s the bike-to-work behavior chain:
- Intending to bike to work
- Knowing how to ride a bike
- Owning a bike that works
- Owning a lock, helmet, light, panniers, and other gear that might be necessary
- A safe route to work
- A place to store your bike at work
- Showers at work
This reveals barriers to biking to work that educational campaigns might not touch. Without these barriers, biking to work becomes possible for many more people.
Interested in community-based social marketing? This guide from the University of Pennsylvania breaks it down nicely.
Photo by Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab.