A conversation with Åsa Sandberg and Amanda Borneke on win-win strategies and nudging.
“We always get inspired with people around that we perhaps meet or see on an inspirational talk. But once we come back to our lives we get back into the routine and don’t act on it”, says Åsa. This is the motivation behind the idea of the company A Win Win World where action becomes the overarching goal. She adds, “We do several kinds of project but we start with the goal for what needs to be changed for a resource effective sustainable world.”. Their company provides services for different businesses, municipalities, and organizations who aim to become more sustainable by figuring out what’s the most effective solution. It is first and foremost a co-creation platform where it tries to bring different actors together to get innovative solutions. It is also the catalyst for advancing solutions for behavior change such as by using behavioral economics tools like nudging.
“We believe there are brilliant and inspiring people in the world that can help achieve sustainable solutions.”, adds Åsa.
Nudging and sustainability
Nudging1, coined by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein is an approach for behavior change which stems from the reality that people do not always behave in ways that they intend to do. This is because we are limited in our cognitive capacity to make all decisions in our everyday life with full deliberative thought. Thus, our brain resorts to make most of the decisions in an automatic and fast way without stressing our brains and leaving important decisions to be made in a deliberative and slow manner (Daniel Kahneman, 2011). These fast and automatic processes result in mistakes in our decision making when we deviate from our intentions These mistakes are captured by research in psychology and categorized into cognitive biases. Nudging, aims to make the decision process easier by changing how the choices are presented in the environment.
A Win Win World, is one the first organizations to take up the practice of nudging to engage different actors. As a part of their aim to create a network, ‘Nudging Sweden’ is a platform where various people from different backgrounds can have a dialogue and increased collaboration. They have recently received a scholarship from WWF to use nudging for conservation efforts. Åsa explains, “We are proud to receive the scholarship and act as a catalyst where we educate the municipality on how they can use nudging to advance conservation efforts”. They also engage the municipality in ‘Action-Labs’ which are workshops aimed for stimulating thinking and discussion among the municipality participants.
Academia and businesses coming together
Åsa and Amanda believe that there’s a role for academia and businesses to come together and do hands on projects, utilizing the strengths of both the spheres to engage in sustainability transformation. Åsa points out, “I and Katharina started A Win Win World being passionate about a sustainable world and we wanted to use the potential of collaboration to bring about a change. At the same time, we realized how nudging could be incorporated into practice”.
However, there are certain challenges that nudging faces. Amanda points out, “Time is always a constraint. Getting data and figuring out the best from the various different approaches that one can take for behavior change also need to be considered. Different disciplines offer different approaches and often need to be evaluated and reconciled”.
They also consider the role that academia can play towards addressing some of the challenges such as figuring out root drivers behind a certain behavior that needs to be changed. As Åsa puts it, “There’s often a disconnect between academia and business but we try to understand the competences of both the sphere and bring together to create innovative solutions”.
Ethical discussions also needed
Academics have different views on nudging and such approach is characterized to be not transparent1,3, manipulative1,3 and undermining free choice1,3. However, in response, Åsa distinguishes, “Like any other approach towards policy or strategy, nudging can be used for good or bad and there are many different perspectives about it. But we know that we’re not achieving our environmental goals and our behavior needs to be more sustainable”. She asserts “We already get manipulated by how choices are presented to us every day and we can take a stand on it but since often we make mistakes and fail to do so, a nudge in the right direction could help us as in the end it still is a free choice”.
Lastly, Åsa and Amanda also point out to the importance of understanding the use of nudging, it’s specific criteria, where it’s applicable, ethical to use and where it is not. They say, “A lot of companies use the concept but it’s crucial to highlight those criteria, to know how people are nudged and declare publicly”.
Text: Aakash Dhingra, a student journalist at Lund University Sustainability Forum, and a LUMES master's student at Lund University.
Bovens, L. (2009). The Ethics of Nudge. In T. Grune-Yanoff & S. O. Hansson (Eds.), Preference Change: Approaches from Philosophy, Economics and Psychology (pp. 207-219): Theory and Decision Library Series A: Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences, vol. 42. Dordrecht and New York: Springer