UNEP launches” Green Nudges’’ programme for universities.

5 September 2020.


The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a new publication, “The Little Book of Green Nudges”. It aims to inspire up to 200 million students to adopt environmentally friendly habits and life styles.


  • The book is UNEP’s first on behavioural science and nudge theory.
  •  It focuses on human actions and how to change them.
  • It was drafted with The Behavioural Insights Team and GRID-Arendal.
  • It contains 40 ready-made nudges – simple measures that make it easier to make green choices – which university campuses can deploy to encourage students and staff to embrace more sustainable behaviours.
  •  Nudging can be a powerful tool at universities.
  • The Little Book of Green Nudges contains evidence-based guidance on implementing nudges, centred around techniques such as resetting default options, changing the framing of choices, and harnessing social influence.
  • It also includes case studies of nudging interventions rolled out at universities from Thailand to Kenya, Finland and Colombia.

Examples of nudges recommended in the book include:

  • Food: Using appealing descriptions for plant-based dishes, for example “spicy chickpea curry”. A study in a university cafeteria found that describing vegetables in indulgent terms resulted in 25 per cent more diners choosing them. 
  • Recycling: Making recycling bins eye-catching and easy to use. One study found that bins with specialized lids increased the recycling rate for beverage containers by 34 per cent.
  • Waste: In cafeterias, offering smaller plates and no trays, to discourage food waste. A study conducted in a university dining hall found that going trayless led to a significant decrease in solid waste.
  • Transport: Encouraging cycling by making it easier to park bicycles, while at the same time making it more of a hassle to park cars, for instance by requiring people to frequently reapply for car parking permits.
  • Sharing: Setting up a system to share leftover food from meetings or events. A group of students at one university set up a food-sharing group that has prevented more than 7,000 kg of food from going to waste.
  • UNEP is collaborating with higher education institutions around the world to pilot nudging on campuses. Already 20 universities have joined the programme. With COVID-19 forcing a major rethink in higher education, redesigning processes and routines to make their campuses safer, this is a strategic time to make them more sustainable too by incorporating green nudges in their schools. Nudges have been shown to be particularly successful when they are introduced at timely moments of change.
  • Adopting green nudges could also make universities more desirable to prospective students who are looking to attend institutions that share their values.
  • Nudges are an important tool in our toolbox to help us cut carbon emissions, curb waste and encourage adoption of more sustainable diets and modes of travel. Seemingly small shifts can have dramatic impacts.
  • UNEP will share insights from the publication at the World Academic Summit with leaders of some world’s top universities.

About the UN Environment Programme
UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

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