21 July 2009
Nudging in a more enlightened direction
Rob Greenland has an interesting post on The Social Business about the encouraging reduction in plastic bag use – and the even more encouraging way it’s been achieved:
'It's in the news today that supermarkets just missed their target of 50% reduction in plastic bag use (they got to 48%). I'm not a big fan of supermarkets but I think on this one they need to be congratulated. Remember the reaction against proposals to tax plastic bags, and how, many believed, people would never change their habits.
'Far too many bags are still used but a 48% reduction is a massive improvement. If businesses and the public can get their act together on this issue, what other seemingly impossible environmental problems might we solve? It may also suggest that it's better to nudge people into doing the right thing (like the clever question the checkout assistant was trained to ask), rather than taxing them into behavioural change.'
I couldn’t agree more with his recommendation of the nudge-nudge approach and would like to add a couple of simple but effective options that wouldn’t even need nudge-nudge because they would not only achieve savings automatically, but would also be be virtually free and require no new targets or elaborate regulatory controls.
1. ALLOW LEFT TURNS AT RED TRAFFIC LIGHTS
If you’ve ever driven in the USA, you’ll know that most states allow drivers to turn right on a red light if there’s no traffic coming from that direction.
This was arguably the single most important legacy of Gerald Ford’s administration and saves fuel by reducing (a) idling time and (b) the number of times you have to start off from a complete stop. Apart from reducing overall fuel consumption and emissions, the rule brings the added benefit of instant financial savings for motorists and transport companies.
In the UK, for obvious reasons the equivalent would be to permit left turns at red lights – and could be introduced instantly at minimal cost to the taxpayer.
2. REDUCE ROAD AND STREET LIGHTING
In an age when car head-lights are so much better than they used to be, why do there have to be so many lights on so many miles of motorway – and why do they stay on into the early hours of the morning?
And can we really justify so many street-lights in our town centres, suburbs and villages?
Whereas the first recommendation could be brought in instantly, this one would need a bit of experimentation to get the balance right. As a start, I’d suggest turning off 50% of all road and street lighting and see what happened.