Dickinson College and Rare, a global advocate in the use of behavior changes to address conservation issues, joined together Saturday for a national summit on developing new ways colleges and universities can take action against climate change, starting on their own campuses.
The summit, Be.Hive on Campus: Climate Change Needs Behavior Change, brought together more than 400 students and faculty from 42 colleges and universities to explore solutions to motivating climate-friendly habits and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Dickinson College has been a great partner to Rare for a few years now, said Kevin Green, senior director of the Center for Behavior & the Environment at Rare. In 2017, Brett Jenks, Rare’s CEO, was awarded the Rose-Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism, which is given annually by the college to a person or group dedicated to preserving the planet and its resources.
As a result, Green said he and Jenks spent “a fair amount of time” on campus as part of the celebration surrounding the prize. They worked with the Center for Sustainability Education and ran a few workshops on campus to teach students about Rare’s approach to behavior-centered design.
Green said behavior-centered design uses the best insights on human behavior to create solutions to sustainability issues. It begins by framing the challenge in terms of the behavior they want to see adopted and continues with throwing away assumptions about the target audience. The approach makes designers put themselves in the shoes of the target audience.
“We really understand the motivation and barriers, challenges and lives of the target audience, and so that we can design a solution that works for them,” he said.
Green said the goal is to look for solutions that work for real people.
The pair said they were “blown away” by the energy on campus and the enthusiasm the students had for the concepts they were learning in the workshops.
“It’s a very committed campus to sustainability in a way that we think is worth celebrating and, just as importantly, a really entrepreneurial and innovative campus, willing to try some new things and certainly go outside the box a little bit to get to their sustainability goals,” Green said.
A highlight of Saturday’s summit was a behavior design-centered challenge conducted in partnership with Dickinson’s dining services department. The challenge had students look at improving sustainability in the college’s food system, specifically by helping students increase the amount of plant-based food that is used on campus. Doing so would have a dramatic effect on land use and supply chains in ways that surpass more obvious environmentally conscious choices, Green said.
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“We know that one of the really powerful solutions to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is in our diets,” he said. “One of the under-the-radar solutions is how much our diets affect our carbon footprint.”
The design challenge brought together more than 50 students from eight schools who worked in teams throughout the day on Friday, competing for the chance to share their solutions from the stage of the Be.Hive summit Saturday and a cash prize of $1,500.
The Nudgetables, a team of students from the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences program, won the competition with their solution that bridged the gap between holding environmentally conscious values and acting on those values. The team said students often gravitate to what’s most convenient in the cafeteria rather than what is more environmentally friendly.
The team suggested assigning environmental scores to different foods, putting those labels on the menu and then setting the top choices in a central location in the cafeteria. The plates at that location would be green to signal that the student made an ecological choice for the meal.
The group also proposed moving all meat products to a single line to create a bottleneck, making nonmeat options more convenient and, as a result, more attractive.
Other finalists in the competition included teams from Cheyney University, Cornell University and Dickinson College.
The college campus is a key place for instituting behavior change like this that makes a difference. Between students, faculty and employees, college campuses are like minicities all across the country. Having an effect on the people in those minicities can impact the world, Green said.
“College campuses are often the places at the forefront of social and even political change, so we think it’s a really important audience with which to have potentially what we could consider disproportionate impact,” he said.
Comedian and actor Ravi Patel served as master of ceremonies for the event, which also featured speakers from business, academia and conservation organizations.
In addition to talks and presentations, the summit featured an electric vehicle demonstration, career fair, food sampling and a game show, Prove It, that pitted experts against each other, buzzing-in to explain behavior change in ways people can understand.
“One of the things I love about what we’re doing with Be.Hive is that we try really hard to bring together diverse skills and experiences and personalities in surprising ways,” Green said.