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Institutional Change Principles for Fostering Sustainability

The following eight principles serve as the foundational building blocks for developing strategies to achieve institutional change—but they are not the strategies themselves. They are derived from academic literature and inform the framework for achieving institutional change in a Federal organization. Each statement is followed by a general strategy for how the principle can be translated into action.

  • Social Network and Communications: Institutions and people change because they see or hear of others (individuals, groups, institutions, firms) behaving differently, so make sure staff see or hear about others who have changed their office energy use or patterns of behavior.

  • Multiple Motivations: Institutions and people almost always change their ways of doing things for more than one reason, so provide different and combined appeals.

  • Leadership: Institutions and people change because workplace rules change and visible leadership communicates management commitment, so be visible and demonstrate commitment.

  • Commitment: Institutions and people change when they have made definite commitments to change, especially when those commitments relate to future conditions ("save more tomorrow"), so ask for specific and public commitments.

  • Information and Feedback: Institutions and people change because they receive actionable information and feedback, so provide tools and resources tailored to specific workplace situations.

  • Infrastructure: Institutions and people change because a changed infrastructure compels new behaviors that are easy or desirable, so change defaults—such as indoor temperature, printer settings, etc.—and provide motivations as well as incentives to use infrastructure more efficiently, such as special status or benefits for van pool and public transportation users.

  • Social Empowerment: Institutions and people who feel they can reach desirable social goals often do, so involve people in program design and processes.

  • Continuous Change: Institutional change takes time, so plan for a multiyear process that creates, grows, and clones workplaces, processes, and products that build sustainability.