Towards Sustainable Laundry Behaviour

Understanding the role of habit - and how to influence it - is a critical determinant of behaviour. Evidence shows that, by its nature, habit is difficult to address, as it is repetitive, automatic and is deeply embedded in our subconscious.

Understanding the role of habit - and how to influence it - is a critical determinant of behaviour. Evidence shows that, by its nature, habit is difficult to address, as it is repetitive, automatic and is deeply embedded in our subconscious.

This Action-Based Research project was commissioned by Defra during 2012 to test the use of Implementation Intention Plans (IIPs) as an approach to breaking and reforming new habits - based on its effective use predominantly in the health field. The technique involves the formation of simple 'if-then plans', which individuals adopt and rehearse, until new behavioural responses become encoded in their day-to-day environments. These plans help people to 'get started' with new behaviours, where good intentions alone are insufficient.

This research worked closely with three major businesses and a small sample of consumers to understand (a) whether IIP is effective in changing the sustainable habits of consumers; and (b) whether businesses have the potential to adopt the use of IIP, and provide an effective channel for influencing the sustainable habits of their consumers.

Over a six-week trial period, an IIP-centered intervention was evaluated using six sustainable behaviours, comprising IIP habit plans, investigative interviews, sharing experiences via social media, using a science expert, and the use of prompts. A mixed methods evaluation was adopted to determine in-depth insights and measure changes in habit strength.

The research demonstrated that using an IIP-centered intervention approach is effective in changing sustainable habits, and achieving a high degree of habitual behaviour change in the six sustainable behaviours tested (comprising laundry, showering and food-related behaviours). The findings show that a mix of factors is important in influencing habit. Further, the research established that adopting IIP-centered interventions was attractive to the three businesses in engaging and influencing the sustainable habits of their consumers. However, more work is required to develop a scalable model and a tailored business case.
The detailed results are currently subject to peer review before the results are published in early Summer 2014.

In his presentation, Paul White, Director of The Social Marketing Practice will summarise the findings from the laundry behaviour component of the project, which was conducted in partnership with P&G. Specifically, the results from 'washing laundry at 30 degrees' will be presented; whereby 19 out of 20 participants increased their frequency of washing at 30 degrees, and demonstrated a notable increase in habit strength.