Anti-littering — gentle and humorous nudges

Maurice Codourey
Feb 17, 2020 · 5 min read

Nudges are designed to motivate people to change their behaviour with gentle measures, for the environment, for their own safety or in the public interest. This is also an exciting approach for communities and cities.

In 2008 the book “Nudge book” was published. In it, the authors Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein present their successful method of inviting people to a desired change in their behavior, making better choices for the common good. How is that supposed to work? And what does this mean for the communication of a community with its population?

The groundbreaking method has changed the behavioral economics and has earned Richard H. Thaler the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2017. As a consultant it has led him to Barack Obama in the Oval Office and to David Cameron at 10 Downing Street. The aim of Nudges is to encourage people to change their behaviour (and perceptions) with gentle measures, for the environment, for their own safety or in the interest of the general public.

Digital potential included
The Australian government of New South Wales uses a very successful nudge in the hospital sector: it reminds patients of their consultation appointment via SMS in connection with useful apps such as Google Maps. The increased participation due to this 160-character measure saves up to 100,000 dollars annually in costs.

Image: If the paper cup is painted on the floor and arrows show the way to the next rubbish bin, chances are high that the real paper cup will not land on the floor but in the bin where it belongs (BSR, Creation created by @igoverkill — Instagram profile).

Suggesting instead of commanding
«The Nudge» invites the population to make smarter decisions. This is always done in the interest of the common good and is voluntary. The gentle push is not an order, but a suggestion that leaves the people full freedom of choice whether or not to accept the change offered or to remain on the own default.

Berliners rely on humour
For more than 20 years, the public company Berliner Stadtreinigung (BSR) in Berlin has put humour on the map. The unique humour of the «Berlin DNA» forms the foundation of a multi-layered BSR campaign in communication with the public.

Image: Wastebasket communication of BSR — «every five minutes waste falls in love with this bucket» (BSR, Creation created by @igoverkill — Instagram profile).

Collecting, disposing and separating waste should be fun — the orange-coloured, long-standing campaign with smart slogans for example on the waste bins has generated a great deal of interest among the population and the media. The BSR defines the objectives of a long-term communication strategy as follows:

  • Create enthusiasm for a «low involvement» product.
  • To inspire people for an attractive cityscape and to motivate them to participate in a winking way, such as probably in street cleaning as well as in waste separation.

Desired changes in the behaviour and perception of target groups are always linked to the value of sustainability. These goals, including their measuring points, can hardly be achieved with «10-minute campaigns», as the communication around such a nudge alludes to people’s inner values and norms. The outstanding commitment of BSR with attention to detail shows a whole bouquet of successes achieved:

  • The more than 23’000 wastebaskets turned into main actors.
  • The BSR also spreads the invitation to change behaviour with its own social media articles on Twitter and YouTube. On an Instagramaccount, these heroes and helpers are regularly in the spotlight with messages from current events. Competitions round off the involvement of the Berliners.
  • The daily work of the city cleaning service has also made the employees into heroes and increased their motivation to participate.
  • In 2014, Berliner Stadtreinigung will be voted the most popular company in the city of Berlin with currently 5600 employees. It also enjoys a high level of acceptance among children, not least thanks to a comprehensive environmental education programme.
  • Cleaning vehicles with the inscription «Räumschiff» or «Kehrrari» (phonetic and letter-intelligent word games like here with terms spaceship or Ferrari) ensure cheerfulness and cleanliness.
  • Chalk drawings with references to the wastepaper basket put the corpus delicti in scene (see image above).
  • The campaign also scores with English-language slogans among tourists: «You are leaving the dirty sector», «The embassy of clean Berlin» or «Museum of modern trash».

The measures have a scientific basis. They are based on a triad of operational, regulatory and communication measures. And the colour of the wastepaper baskets is also a highly relevant factor in terms of attention.

Image: «In the next life I’ll be a mailbox!» (BSR, Creation created by @igoverkill — Instagram profile).

Long-term study at the Humboldt University of Berlin 2005 to 2017
On behalf of various large cities, the Humboldt University has investigated the effectiveness of the measures. For the study «Perception of cleanliness and causes of littering» about 5000 residents of the cities Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, Cologne and Hamburg were interviewed. Birgit Nimke-Sliwinski, Head of Marketing at Berliner Stadtreinigung, summarizes the main results of the study: «The city’s cleanliness and the image of the cleaning companies are rated significantly better in 2017 than in 2005».

Excerpts from the study:

  • Compared to 2005, there has been a striking change in the main litter objects (e.g. strongest growth in take-away packaging).
  • Important reasons for littering are convenience and carelessness. But littering also depends on the number, functionality and above all the visibility of wastebaskets.
  • Children and young people are more critical of cleanliness in the city and their own littering behaviour than adults.
  • In a total of three field studies, the effectiveness of anti-littering measures derived from this assessment was demonstrated (optimisation of the design of wastepaper baskets in Cologne, use of «carers» in Hamburg, use of nudges and an accompanying target group-oriented poster campaign in Cologne).

Conclusion: In particular, the use of nudges and the accompanying poster campaign aimed at children and adolescents showed an increased effectiveness of the anti-litter measures. Children and adolescents rated the nudges used more positively than adults, which clearly shows the sense of a target group-specific and humorous approach.

During the last ten years of nudging, I have been more than fascinated by individual implementations. Like the BSR campaign from Berlin. My personal thanks for the nudgetastic exchange of knowledge go to Birgit Nimke-Sliwinski, Jana Becker and the entire BSR marketing team and teams behind this incredible performance.
The COD ROX Prototyping Class uses selected best practices for holistic inspiration of business teams.

Maurice Codourey

Written by

#behavioural #prototyper | global safety | #nudger :: #coworking :: @codourey @DNAdigitalnomad

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn | Tune in at aoapodcast.com | Connecting 500k+ monthly readers with 1,200+ authors

Maurice Codourey

Written by

#behavioural #prototyper | global safety | #nudger :: #coworking :: @codourey @DNAdigitalnomad

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn | Tune in at aoapodcast.com | Connecting 500k+ monthly readers with 1,200+ authors

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store