en center for behavior and the environment

center for behavior & the environment
solving conservation challenges through the science of human behavior
fishermen gathering in the philippines

the behavior beat

Stay up to date on the latest insights in behavioral science from The Center for Behavior & the Environment and beyond.

the most urgent environmental challenges of our time share one thing in common – to solve them, people have to start behaving differently

Global understanding of human behavior is evolving quickly. New insights across economics, political science, evolutionary biology, social psychology, neuroscience, and design thinking have transformed our understanding of human behavior and decision-making. 

The Center for Behavior & the Environment is bringing the best insights from behavioral science and design to tackle some of the most challenging environmental issues. Through partnerships with leading academic and research institutions, we are translating the science of human behavior into practical solutions for conservationists worldwide.

our approach to conservation is behavior-centered design
fellow and community member with compost
1. Showcasing bright spots -- finding solutions that are already working and spreading them far and wide
fellow taking notes
2. Field-based learning -- taking science out of the laboratory and into the field, for the betterment of both
classroom of farmers
3. High-impact training and delivery -- empowering more conservation practitioners around the world to become transformative behavioral design strategists

Conservation is primarily not about biology but about people and the choices they make.”

Balmford and Cowling, Conservation Biology, 2006

principles of behavior-centered design

emotional appeals

We know that humans are a highly emotional species.

Psychologists say we have two systems in our brain. System 1 is fast, intuitive and emotional, while system 2 is slow, logical and rational. We must not solely communicate to the rational system – we have to communicate to the often more powerful emotional system too.

The Elephant, The Rider and the Path - A Tale of Behavior Change

social incentives

Contrary to common assumptions, people are not inherently selfish.

We have evolved to become intrinsically social animals with a deep need to belong and a desire to cooperate. We care what others think about us and are highly responsive to social influences, often modeling our behavior after those we like and trust.

In other words, we behave not purely as individuals, but as members of any number of social groups to which we belong. So changing an individual’s behavior means changing the norms of the group.

choice architecture

Humans have strange, seemingly irrational ways of making judgements and decisions that have been helpful throughout evolution, but that often defy rational logic.

Highly influenced by the context of our decision-making, we instinctively look for information that confirms existing beliefs and ignore information that contradicts it. We prefer simplicity, have a limited attention span and go out of our way to avoid hassles, even when the costs of avoidance clearly outweigh the benefits. We also ascribe more value to things simply because we own them.

So successfully designing for behavior change means accounting for those various biases and heuristics (a fancy word for shortcuts) in ways that make new behaviors easier to adopt.

advisory board
steve gaines headshot
Steve Gaines
    Dean, Bren School of Environmental Science & Management - UC Santa Barbara
Sarah stein Greenberg headshot
Sarah Stein Greenberg
    Executive Director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the d.school) - Stanford University
roberta katz headshot
Roberta Katz
    Associate Vice President for Strategic Planning - Stanford University
aileen lee headshot
Aileen Lee
    Chief Program Officer, Environmental Conservation - Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
pamela matson headshot
Pamela Matson
    Dean of the School of Earth, Energy, & Environmental Sciences - Stanford University
kent messer headshot
Kent Messer
    Co-Director, Center for Behavioral & Experimental Agri-Environmental Research and Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment - University of Delaware
Georgia Pessoa headshot
Georgia Pessoa
    Head of Environment - Roberto Marinho Foundation
David Rand headshot
David Rand
    Co-Director, Applied Cooperation Team and Associate Professor of Psychology, Economics and Management - Yale University
rocky tirona headshot
Rocky Tirona
    Vice President - Rare Philippines
elka weber headshot
Elke Weber
    Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs - Princeton University
Erez Yoeli headshot
Erez Yoeli
    Co-Director - Yale Applied Cooperation Team and Research Scientist

the blog

check out stories of behavioral insights for the environment

Super Bowl advertisers have something to teach conservationists about animals
January 2018

The Eagles and Patriots meet on Sunday in Super Bowl LII. But it's the Clydesdales, polar bears, and puppies we're really looking forward to. Marketers leverage our emotional connection to animals to sell beer, soda, and chips. Rare uses the same approach to inspire communities to protect forests, farmland and coral reefs. In this piece, Kevin Green, Senior Director of the Center, explains why animal mascots are such a powerful tool for conservation.

Norms, Nudges and Nature: A shortlist of our favorite behavioral studies from 2017​
January 2018

There is a growing set of literature on the intersection of behavioral science and conservation that supports the work we do at Rare. As we kick off another year, read about our short list of published work from researchers in the fields of psychology, education, and planning who drew connections between human behavior and greener living in 2017.

From Theory to Change: Behavioral Insights Driving Conservation Impacts - Sarilani Wirawan
December 2017
Last month, hundreds of thought leaders, researchers and practitioners came together at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC for the WWF Fuller Symposium on The Nature of Change: The science of influencing behavior. Rare-Indonesia Director Sarilani Wirawan spoke to the audience about Rare’s years of experience in translating the science of human behavior into the practice of reforming small-scale fisheries across Indonesia. Through the inspiring story of a few passionate and creative leaders, Sari recounted how simply meeting people where they are and adding emotional appeals, social incentives and choice architecture to our conservation toolkit have begun to transform the way the entire country is managing the future of its marine resources.

Behavioural Insights in Environment & Development
December 2017

In October 2017, Rare and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) convened the Behavioural Insights in Development and Environment Summit in Stockholm, Sweden. Focused on discussing the potential for behavioural insights to influence the trajectory of development and environmental research and policy, a diverse group of 50 people including academia, policy-makers, donors, and practitioners actively engaged. The following document outlines some key conversations covered during the two day meeting.

Dispatch from Dickinson: On Meeting People Where They Are
December 2017
This fall, Rare launched the Center for Behavior & the Environment – our initiative to bring the best insights from behavioral science and design to tackle some of the most challenging environmental issues. Part of the Center’s mission is to empower the next generation of conservation practitioners to become transformative behavioral design strategists through high-impact trainings. Our first stop – Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a leader in global environmental activism. For a look inside the beginning of this journey, read this “Dispatch from Dickinson” by Kevin Green, Rare’s Senior Director for the Center.

When Theory Meets Practice: A Mission (to) Accomplish
September 2017

Last month, we set out on an expedition to connect theory and practice. Led by Rare staff, several partners of the Center traveled to Tinambac municipality in the Philippines to visit one of our sites and meet our partner conservationists working on the ground to protect small-scale fisheries through behavioral approaches like emotional appeals, social incentives and choice architecture. Kicking off our behavior change blog is Rare Senior Manager Larissa Hotra with a recap of the week's key insights.

connect with the center

Interested in collaborating with the Center? To find out more, please contact us at behavior@rare.org.

the behavior beat

Stay up to date on the latest insights in behavioral science from The Center for Behavior & the Environment and beyond.