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Prose, Friedemann (1996).  Participatory Social Marketing with a View to Traffic Reduction: The nordlicht campaign.

( original title: The nordlicht campaign: Social Marketing with a View to Traffic Reduction)

In: Facing the Challenge - Successful Climate Policies in European Cities. Ed.: European Academy of the Urban Environment, Berlin 1996, pp 55-59



What does social psychology have to do with climate protection? The answer is to be found in the observation, which is increasingly being corroborated, that the global climate changes which have taken place or are to be expected have been caused on a large-scale by human behaviour. For example, the high level of fossil fuel consumption (coal, mineral oil, gas) is responsible, above all in industrial countries, in the northern hemisphere for the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide is responsible, to around 50%, for the greenhouse effect. Effective climate protection cannot be restricted to technical solutions but means changes in consumption behaviour and changes in lifestyle. Catchwords such as energy saving, energy efficiency, the use of renewable energies (sun, wind and biomass) as well as traffic avoidance, indicate the new course we have to take. Changes in behaviour are a central component in psychological research. Since the energy crisis in the 1970s, social psychology has been examining the methods which can lead to changes in how human beings handle energy (summary: Stern, 1992). Contrary to the situation in anglo-saxon countries, psychologically-based methods in Germany have scarcely been considered at all when planning and implementing climate change strategies. The emphasis is far more on the development of technical solutions. In order to implement these use is made, above all, of tools such as economic incentives, taxes and regulatory measures.


Intrinsic motivation

These instruments are absolutely essential for effective climate protection. They share one feature: they lead to behaviour "from outside" and "from above", which protects the climate. This applies to many approaches to climate protection in the municipalities (Prose et al., 1994). A fundamental and lasting behavioural change from the psychological angle is, however, more likely when we succeed in bringing as many people as possible to develop "intrinsic" motivation for climatic protection, that is motivation which comes from within. Viewing the greenhouse effect as a personally important problem and actively working on solutions implies an orientation on the value level towards the common good. The globality of the problem implies that this thinking is extensive both in temporal as well as social terms. This means that the idea of the common good must be extended to future generations and to other communities, peoples, regions. The marketing of climate protection, by means of which a lasting change in behaviour is to be achieved, should contribute directly and indirectly to developing, strengthening and promoting thoughts and actions along this line for the common good as well as corresponding awareness of problems and responsebilities. This cannot be imposed from the outside: it can only be achieved in the long-term via "intrinsic" motivation which comes from within and through the taking on board of the corresponding values.

Participatory social marketing (PSM)

It is, therefore, important that the tools described above are supplemented by systematic and long-term strategies for convincing people. In the project "climate protection" which I headed at the Institute for Psychology at the University of Kiel we are working on developing and testing a strategy which we call participatory social marketing (PSM). The term social means that we do not put the individual economic advantage, e.g. saving energy, to the fore. Climate protection is a social idea and should stem from social responsebility for the threatened peoples and future generations. Marketing by no way means that we want to use the same advertising methods for climate protection as are used for detergents and cars. However, we are steering ourselves towards the systematics of marketing by preparing analyses of consumer and target groups, testing changes in behaviour prior to application and measuring success (evaluation). The following figure presents marketing as a problem solving and learning process:

  1. Analysis
  2. Planning
  3. Developing, testing, fine tuning
  4. Implementation
  5. Assessment of efficiency on market
  6. Feedback

Our goal is to use marketing for traffic reduction as professionally as it is used for selling cars. We want to do this by convincing people, not by talking them into doing things. The participatory concept means efforts to involve as many people as possible as co-players in marketing for climate protection. New ideas and behaviour patterns spread effectively through the model behaviour of credible individuals and through personal communication in existing social networks. By recommending " you do something yourself for climate protection and convince other people that it is worth joining in" we want to activate social influence in social networks and trigger a snowball effect for climate protection.

Social influence

Climate protection and concrete traffic avoidance are new patterns of behaviour for the new players which are to be established through marketing and this means innovation. The theory of the social diffusion of innovation (Roges & Shoemaker, 1971) and corresponding research findings describe how new products, ideas and patterns of behaviour are spreading in human systems. The decisive multipliers are opinion leaders, models and comparative individuals in existing social networks. Social influence on the level of groups and personal social networks, for example at the workplace, in clubs, in the neighbourhood, in the municipality, plays an important role in efforts to bring about change. Effective strategies for change take account of communication paths, paths for exerting influence in these social networks. They also endeavour systematically to bring in the model behaviour of reference persons and opinion leaders. Marketing for climate protection should not always be oriented directly towards the "final consumer". The process of social transfer and social influence takes place on various levels (multiple step-flow) and involves various players. Therefore, it is necessary to develop different behaviour patterns for the various players and to use cooperation and participation strategies. A few socio-psychological comments should be made concerning the conditions under which social influence is effective:

  • From communication research we know that information which is passed on via friends, e.g. from neighbours, colleagues or club members, is more credible and, therefore, has a greater effect than information from foreign sources, e.g. experts, councillors. For programmes on behavioural changes this, therefore, means that one of the underlying goals is to turn climate protection into a subject for discussion by multipliers in the social networks. Multipliers should not just be motivated to talk about climate protection. They should be placed in a position in which they are able to offer convincing arguments for the corresponding measures and to defuse counter argumensts.
  • The members of a nework can act as models (examples) for other members. Observers learn from the consequences (both positive and negative) to identify the models for their behaviour. One important preconditon is the identification of the observer with the model. Identification depends, amongst other things, on the perceived comparability with the model and the strength of the link of the model. Modelling or effectively using examples is a key point in the dissemenation of innovation. Multipliers should be encouraged and placed in the position to demonstrate and transfer their own new climate protection behaviour as well as their experience and results in a lucid manner.
  • A third kind of social influence is social comparison. People tend to compare themselves with others. The direct social environment is used as the yardstick for their opinions and patterns of behaviour. Multipliers should be enabled to transfer this comparative information is, for example, information on the number of people within the respective reference group who have a positive attitude towards concrete climate protection measures or have already implemented these. The realisation that climate protection in their own reference group is not a minority actitvity but something which a growing majority defends could, at the right time, be effectively disseminated by the multipliers. The results of surveys within the target groups could be an important basis for this.
  • Finally, influence can be exerted via social standards and social support. Within their social environment people exert pressure on each other to behave as expected. The efficacy and maintaining of social noms depends on opportunities for sanctions, i.e. that is to put across the positive or negative consequences of specific behaviour. Multipliers should be encouraged to express in their social environment the personal value which climate protecton has for them, to communicate this and to put across their expectation that the people in their environment will change their behavior accordingly. When traffic avoidance or energy are presented as an attribute worth striving towards, then social standards must be changed. Energy saving forms of behaviour should, for example, not be linked with poverty and renunciation but with status and social recognition. This recognition (positive affirmation, praise) can be channelled via the multipliers. Social support of this kind als contributes to maintaining, in a lasting manner, new patterns of behaviour, e.g. traffic avoidance.
  • Social psychology studies on energy savings have shown the efficacy of individual feedback on changes in energy consumption as a way of increasing energy saving behaviour. This applies, above all, when feedback procedures are linked with other methods such as concrete targets and commitment. Within the framework of broadly based strategies for implementing climate protection behaviour, individual feedback involves a disproportionate amount of time and effort. Another possibility is to pass on information and this means collective or social feedback. Unlike individual changes in behaviour, this may take the form of quantified information on the total number of kilometres saved or carbon dioxide savings within the social or regional unit, e.g. a municipality. We normally use social feedback of this kind via the media in our nordlicht climate protection campaign. Individual feedback attracts attention to the cost-benefit aspects of climate protection behaviour for the individual. Social feedback stresses that climate protection is a common task and that many small changes in behaviour of many individuals can lead to a major overall effect for climate protection.

Social and regional identity

A further opportunity for social change lies in linking social identity with positive behaviour such as energy saving or traffic avoidance. The psychological process which can be activated here can be described as follows (Tajfel, 1982): Human beings divide their social environment into categories or groups. They differentiate between the category or group to which they themselves belong ("we") and the other. Belonging to a specific category or group and ist perceived properties determines the social identity of the individual. The specific characteristics of individual social group are identified through comparative processes with other categories or groups. Each individual endeavours to have a positive social identity. This is achieved when that individual's group can set itself apart in a positive manner from other groups by way of important comparative dimensions. In our nordlicht climate protection campaign we realised that human beings also identify social categories according to regions, districts and areas in which they live, they educate themselves and identify with social spatial units to a certain degree. We endeavoured to activate the regional idenitity and to stress the comparative dimension "climate protection behaviour of citizens" as a dimension for achieving a positive regional identity. In this respect we want to promote residents' efforts to ensure that their district or region comes off well in comparison with other regions in respect of "climate protection" through their own contribution.

Thinking and acting for the common good are most likely to be expressed when individuals can identify concrete solutions to problems, can grasp their opportunities for action and can experience the effects of their problem-solving behaviour. This is most likely to be the case in their direct social and spatial environment. The local districts play a central role in the dissemination of innovation and the establishment of cooperative and participate approaches to climate protection. Hence, we are trying to win the local authorities as partners in participatory social markekting (PSM) on behalf of climate protection on the spot.

Setting up the campaign

Since the end of 1990 our project team has been involved in implementing the PSM strategy described above and the related socio-psychological concepts. Beginning in Schleswig-Holstein we introduced nordlicht - the climate protection campaign for you to join in. The name nordlicht (northern lights) stands for the fact that the industrial nations in the northern hemisphere must do more than they have before. The electricity and water saving activities and the campaign which we began in late summer 1994 "less means more in motor vehicle traffic" was intended to encourage active climate protection "from the bottom up", i.e. by the public at large. Both campaigns are spreading through all regions of Germany. In Austria, too, a nordlicht coordination office has been set up at the Climate Alliance in Vienna (see below).

The main components in "the climate protection campaign for you to join in" are simple: leaflets, sponsors, supporters, distribution networks, a feedback system on involvement and press work. A short framework concept for multipliers informs them how climate protection action on the spot can be invigorated. The simplicity of the campaign aims to keep the threshold for dissemination and participation as low as possible and also to allow non-professionals in the field of PR work to effectively support activities in their own environment. We the initiatiors of nordlicht are seeking a willingness by the public at large to shape the campaign through self-organisation on the spot and to carry it forward.

The two four-page leaflets present relatively easy opportunities for reducing individual motor vehicle traffic (see annex) and energy savings. The text should not seek to preach at people but rather to offer practical choices. The leaflet "Less is more in motor vehicle traffic" presents seven steps to new mobility which are a brief learning programme for behaviour changes. The participants in the campaign are asked to work towards a savings goal for at least a month in terms of kilometres or litres of fuel. This target is entered on a coupon with the name of the participant as confirmation of his commitment together with his address and sent back to Kiel. Commitment triggers off a positive spiral of behaviour. Smaller traffic avoidance measures can, via commitment, lead to an increase in efforts towards climate protection, i.e. to more far reaching changes in behaviour. Once a minor commitment has been entered into a specific area, studies have shown that the individual will be ready to enter into a larger commitment in the same area. What we have to do is to create a positive "climate for climate protection".

The printing and dissemination of the leaflets is made possible through local and regional sponsors/supporters The sponsors/supporters can print their logo on the back of the leaflets which are financed by them. So far, we have had as sponsors/supporters: districts, towns and communities but also assoziations, clubs, insurance companies, savings banks and business enterprises. Furthermore, private individuals have also printed leaflets. It has proved to be very important to attract sponsors and supporters who are well known and trusted on the regional and local level. The more numerous and varied the sponsors and supporters, the more likely it is that very different and new target groups will be reached via the campaign.

The leaflet distribution networks are activated through personal contacts and through letter and telephone campaigns. Church communities, parent and environmental groups, staff committees, assoziations of the most different kinds and neighbourhood initiatives can be won to ensure the active dissemination of the nordlicht leaflets. There are innumerable small and large social networks of this kind which are made up of people who are ready to make a contribution to environmental and climate protection if asked to do so. Hence, direct approaches by multipliers in the personal distribution of leaflets have proved to be highly effective.

The feedback system is the driving force behind the nordlicht campaign. On the back of the leaflet there is a section in which participants can publicise that they are taking part. This section is sent back to the campaign initiators in Kiel. These coupons provide information on the dissemination sites of the campaign, the increase in participation and the "interim" results. This information is the basis for on-going regionalised press work. The feedback constitutes, given the degree of participation, only the tip of the iceberg (see below). Although the volume of feedback only reveals a fraction of actual participation, ist publication does, however, indicate that "our numbers are constantly growing". It convinces more and more people that climate protection can be undertaken through many small individual contributions. Since we also publicise the "intermediate" results regionally and locally, the local identity is addressed and people are encouraged to actively increase the contribution made by their area or region. Regionalised feedback makes comparison and stimulation of positive competition between areas and regions possible.

Lokal and regional media receive as "news" the actual overall participation in the campaign, the participation rate in their district as well as a list of top performers for individual areas. In the case of larger cities, this can be broken down according to districts. This creates the basis for on-going press work which is of decisive importance for maintaining and continuing to spread the campaign. If this press work is largely assumed by the co-players in the municipalities, there is a good chance to increase the regional reference frame to take up local results and specifics, to increase credibility and to put across the model of "exemplary" behaviour on the spot of well known opinion leaders via press. This increases the efficacy of the campaign. By adhering to the uniform nordlicht logo, which is of importance for the recognition value and supra-regional effect, and by maintaining a uniform appearance, all measures make sense which stress the regional flavour of the activity.

The effects

nordlicht proves that even small practical steps, if they are carried out by many individuals, can have a major effect. For the campaign on saving electricity and water, we were able to conduct an evaluation study in Schleswig-Holstein (Prose et al., 1993). Representative household surveys in several areas of varying sizes have shown that 12% of the household were motivated by the campaign to implement measures towards saving energy end water. The actual effect of nordlicht is even larger than the feedback figures would indicate. In Kiel alone electricity consumption in households was reduced by 3%. We estimate the annual savings in Schleswig-Holstein to already be 10 million KW hours. This corresponds to around 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. To depict what this really means it could be equated with a freight train containing 500 fully loaded wagons. What is even more important is that surveys have shown that the participants in nordlicht view this as merely the first step for further climate protection activities of their own. The affects achieved directly or indirectly via the campaign are likely to be similar if this spreads to other German regions and are likely to be on a similar level in the "Less is more in motor vehicle traffic" campaign. The interim results are encouraging. So far, from all parts of German territory, far more than 100.000 km have been notified to the nordlicht team. The kilometres given refer, initially, to one month. More than 80% of the participants are carrying out the seven steps to new mobility, i.e. they are making a lasting contribution to traffic avoidance.


Together with my project team I hope that active participation in nordlicht will continue to increase the climate protection effect. At this time, outside Schleswig-Holstein, activities are beginning in a whole series of districts, towns and communities. We hope that more and more municipalities, country districts, associations, clubs, etc. will join the campaign and the ranks of the pioneers so far. Thus we could, if we succeed in winning co-players from beyond our borders, achieve a major synergy effect for climate protection by the next World Climate Protection Conference in Tokyo in 1997.

Anyone who would like to order information material and leaflets on nordlicht climate protection activities, please apply to: Dr. Friedemann Prose, Institut für Psychologie, Univ. Kiel, Olshausenstr. 40, D-24098 Kiel. Please enclose a stamped addressed envelope. The address for Austria: Klimabündnis Österreich, Kennwort "nordlicht", Mariahilferstraße 89/24, A-1060 Vienna.


Flyers e.g. of the nordlicht campaigns

negawatt for megawatt

Seven Steps Towards New Mobility

Save electricity and water



Novelli, W.D. (1984). Developing Marketing Programs. In: Frederiksen, L.W., Solomon, L.J. & Brehony, K.A. (Eds.), Marketing Health Behavior, N.Z., Plenum Press.

Prose, F., Hübner, G. & Kupfer, D. (1994). Konzeption, Implementierung und Evaluation eines Marketing-Programmes zur lokalen Aktivierung von Energie und Wassersparpotentialen in Haushalten. Forschungsbericht, Universität Kiel, Institut für Psychologie.

Prose, F., Hübner, G. & Kupfer, D. (1994). Zur Organisation des Klimaschutzes auf der kommunalen Ebene. Forschungsbericht, Universität Kiel, Institut für Psychologie.

Rogers, E. & Shoemaker, F. (1971). Communikation of Innovations: A Cross Cultural Approach. N.Y.,Free Press.

Stern, P.C. (1992). "Psychological Dimensions of Global Environmental Change", Annual Review of Psychology, 43, 269-302.

Tajfel, H. (1982). "Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations", Annual Review of Psychology, 33, 1.39.

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