Lily Dempster, the founder of the One Small Step app, explains how your small actions can have a significant impact on the planet.
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What is One Small Step?
One Small Step is a free mobile app which helps people make gradual lifestyle changes to reduce their carbon footprint. The app is informed by behavioural-science and provides tailored programs to help people reduce their carbon footprint. It’s like a sustainability coach you can fit in your pocket.
The app aims to simplify the overwhelming “I-need-to-do-everything” feeling by providing a personalised sustainability roadmap with a finite set of fun, impactful activities, support and coaching.
What inspired you to start One Small Step?
A few years ago, I was running consumer campaigns at GetUp, and I designed and ran a campaign where 4000 people switched to GreenPower, a renewable energy offsetting scheme. It took 5 minutes online for people to switch. We ran the numbers, and in 4 months, that campaign had double the impact of a community solar farm I’d worked on that took over five years to get off the ground. Another campaign I ran helped 15,000 people switch to a carbon-neutral electricity provider. That campaign had the same impact as taking 50,000 cars off the road in about 12 months.
I discovered that when our individual carbon footprints are so big (as they often are in wealthy western countries), we can have a rapid and tangible environmental impact when only a few thousand of us take action.
Obviously, this doesn’t take away the need for widespread policy changes which are crucial to mitigate climate change effectively. But in developed economies like Australia, we also need community-driven approaches to reduce our overall consumption and personal environmental footprints.
Consumers also have the power to influence corporate behaviour. If we shift our money into eco-friendly products and services, we grow the market share of those companies and put pressure on carbon-intensive businesses to change.
What is the goal of One Small Step?
To help all users reduce their carbon footprints to 2 tonnes of CO2e or below, in line with the UN’s 2050 goal.
How is behavioural science involved?
While working in government, I came across behavioural economics. I realised there was emerging scientific research on behaviour change that could be applied to pro-environmental behaviour and hadn’t been utilised effectively by the environmental movement.
One of the tricky things about sustainable living is that it’s not immediately apparent to people what changes they should make or are most impactful. People don’t know how to change in a way that suits their setup and lifestyle without making them feel guilty or overwhelmed.
The basics of behavioral economics, particularly nudge theory, is to make carrying out the desired behaviour easy by removing decision-making friction, making the behaviour rewarding, and adding timely prompts and tiny starter steps, so you don’t have to think much. You also need to intelligently shape your environment to cue the unconscious part of your brain to start performing desired habitual behaviours automatically. Using cycling as an example, if you layout your cycling gear and pack work clothes in your bag, your brain focuses on the smaller and less effortful task of putting on your cycling gear, which cues you to jump on your bike. The app uses lessons from these theories to help people make changes.
What sort of changes are users supported to make?
Programs cover all sustainability areas: waste, energy, transport, food and consumer products; and we’re introducing more programs regularly.
Our plant-based or plant-rich food program gives you the skills and resources to learn how to make delicious and healthy low-carbon meals, rather than asking you to take the meat off your plate without a replacement.
We also try to take the guesswork out of sustainability by providing videos, links to products and services, vegan recipes, reusable substitutes, and information on how to switch your bank and super fund, so your money isn’t funding fossil fuel projects.
Do users have visibility over their joint efforts?
Yes! We publish the community’s collective impact on our website, update this daily and link to it in the mobile app HERE
You can also see how many people are completing a particular challenge with you at a given time.
What are your hopes for the future?
I want One Small Step to grow quickly, prove its effectiveness as far as our behaviour change model goes, and be available to people all around the world. Right now it’s just catering to Australians, but if things go well over the next 12 months, we’ll launch it overseas too.
In 10 years, if we had the same number of users as FitBit, getting only part-way through the app’s programs, the emissions reductions would be equivalent to shutting down 40 coal-fired power stations. It’s aspirational, but I’d be thrilled with that!
Download One Small Step HERE
Because Lily believes in shifting money into eco-friendly products and services, she is a Bank Australia customer. We also work with Bank Australia because they’re passionate about doing things differently to the majority of banks. Instead of investing in fossil fuels, tobacco and weapons, they invest in the good stuff like renewable energy and disability housing. If you’re interested in thinking differently, consider changing to Bank Australia. Head here to learn more.