Have you ever tried to stand backwards in a packed elevator? I did once, and it felt super weird and uncomfortable.
As humans, our decisions and behaviours are frequently shaped by social norms. We look to those around us to inform our behaviours and decisions - it creates an informal understanding of what’s acceptable or ‘the way we do things around here’.
Sometimes we follow social norms consciously, sometimes not so much.
The exciting thing is that we can use human insights like this as a force for good - we can use social norms to create a new, better normal. How about a new normal where there’s no such thing as single use takeaway packaging? A new normal where every drink and meal comes in reusable servicewear that is used over and over again? A social norm which means that using a disposable coffee cup feels way more awkward than standing the wrong way around in a lift full of people.
So how do we start?
#1: Use your reusables, rinse and repeat
I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but instead of just thinking of using your reusables as an individual action, see it as a way to normalise it for others.
Friday is sushi day. I grab a plate from the office kitchen and rock up to my local. Without fail at least one other person in the sushi queue will comment on what a good idea it is. They see how it works and that the sushi staff are totally down with it - it makes reusables feel a bit more normal and makes people feel a little bit braver about doing it themselves.
Next time there’s two of us in the queue with our reusables and a few more people notice and feel a little bit braver. Then before you know it, the odd one out is the person holding the flimsy single use plastic tray - who’s feeling awkward now?!?
Maybe seeing you use your plate, container or cup will remind others, or help them overcome any awkwardness they may feel, or maybe it will peer pressure them into doing the right thing. However it works, just know that by repeatedly turning up with your reusables, you’ll be influencing others beyond what you will ever know.
#2: Have conversations
You can supercharge social norms with some good old-fashioned conversation. The more you can engage human to human, the more it reinforces the norm and makes things feel relevant and personal.
Whenever someone comments on my BYO plate (or even gives it a sideways look) I’ll use it as the chance to kick off some chat. I might loudly proclaim how much better my sushi tastes off real crockery, or how good it feels to be making a difference. I’ll compliment other people on their reusables and talk to staff about what systems or conversations they could be using to increase the uptake of reusables. I’m all about throwing a connection out there and seeing who’s in.
#3 Normalise the political
I’m not the type of person who would chain myself to a digger in protest, but I’ve found ways to get political that work for me. If it’s a cause I believe in, I’ll sign petitions and support campaigns, and I’m also a huge fan of using the power of social norms to help make it more accessible for other people. It might be as simple as sharing things on my social media, using hashtags or dropping the topic into conversation. The more ‘social’ a topic becomes through different people and forums, the more normalised and relatable it becomes, and the easier it is for others to get behind.
And when it comes to reusables, here’s your chance…
I am beyond grateful that the amazing humans behind Takeawaythrowaways have had the energy and passion to create such an awesome platform to influence Government to create a reuse revolution. If you’re into it, sign the petition, follow the campaign and then use your human power to share, discuss and socialise it.
Let’s get amongst the power of social norms to create a new reusable normal.
If you’re keen to follow the Takeawaythrowaways campaign and sign petition you can find it here.
One small change.
Written by Nicola Turner
Author of Living Lightly