Encourage Climate-Friendly Behaviors as a Social Influencer

By Anirudh Tiwathia & Natalia Paine
August 16, 2022

It’s no secret that the content you create and the things that you post can influence others. But do you know how and why it works?  

Here’s an inside look into the psychology behind how the things you post can change hearts and minds—and how you can optimize your influence—based on research and insights from Rare’s Center for Behavior and the Environment and other psychologists working on climate solutions.

Normalizing climate action

What do you think is the best predictor of climate action? Political orientation? Climate concern? Nope. By far, it’s whether a person believes other people are already taking action. It turns out this understanding that others are doing a thing matters even more than their own belief that they should take action. This means that more people will be more likely to change their behavior when we see climate-friendly actions as common, normal, and expected. So don’t shy away from sharing what you are doing. It will lead others to join you. 

There are many reasons people change

People have multiple and overlapping reasons for adopting climate-friendly behaviors—personal health, saving money, racial justice, or just being fashionable. If you’re doing something climate-friendly, it doesn’t matter if the climate was your biggest motivation—you’re still part of the solution! Seeing diverse and authentic reasons to do something lets others connect with the motivations that resonate most with them, increasing their likelihood of taking up the action. So speak your truth. Don’t try to back-fill reasons you did something. Your truest reason will be more likely to meet people where they are and connect with something that matters to them.  

Showcasing a shift

People respond to the direction things are moving and to what is becoming more and more common. It’s how things like fashion trends pick up steam. If you’re highlighting an uncommon climate-friendly behavior, like driving an electric vehicle (EV), framing it as a behavior growing in popularity instead of something uncommon encourages others to join you.  

One way you can show this is by mentioning that something you’re doing is a change or recent development, instead of seeming like a static state. This helps highlight the direction things are heading and shows that they can also be part of that shift. 

Talking about your solar panels? Mention that you got them last year and are still getting used to some aspects—no need to act like you’ve had them forever. Been vegan for life? No problem—highlight how many more friends you’ve seen trying plant-based products. 

Showing how that change is possible (and occurring!) effectively motivates others to follow along—because nobody wants to be left behind.

Be a relatable messenger

People are looking for signs that people like them are changing. We learn most from what others like us are doing or not doing. Do my peers have this phone? It must be good. Everyone’s using oat milk? Great, I’ll try it too. With so much to decide every day, looking to those around us helps us figure out what is expected and seen as a good choice. 

Others are a lot more likely to take up a climate-friendly behavior if someone they identify with, care about, or whose perspective they value is doing it.

You are an ideal messenger because your friends, family, and followers already trust you and identify with you. Use that to your advantage.

They’re not looking to do what someone who doesn’t feel similar to them—like an environmental saint—is doing, so instead of playing into the role of climate crusader, be true to yourself and your lived experience. That’s what makes your perspective important and invites others to listen and join you.

Offer positive social reinforcement

People are social. Their senses are finely tuned to how their group receives new behaviors. If people notice others receive climate-friendly actions with interest, support, or acceptance, they are more likely to adopt them themselves.

There may be opportunities to show the positive reaction others had to your action or your positive reaction to others’ actions. Show this! Positive reinforcement, where we might expect skepticism, is even more salient and thus more impactful. Did you suggest a plant-based restaurant to your sports team and everyone loved the food? Amazing! Did your motorhead uncle get super excited when you let him test-drive your EV? Tell or show us! 

“Coolness” makes behaviors attractive and sharable

Climate-positive actions are too often portrayed as chores or sacrifices made for the betterment of the world. But low-carbon lifestyles can be sexy, fun, and glam too. 

Look for opportunities to show a climate-positive action as great in their own right. For example, going to that new delicious vegan restaurant is not a chore or sacrifice; it’s just the best new restaurant in town!

Leaning into the smart, fun, and aspirational element will entice more people to want to get involved. So share those photos of delicious and beautiful plant-based food or the perks of your EV’s “frunk.” Something being healthy, financially savvy, or just plain enjoyable is a much better framing than climate dread.

Showing the struggle to change

Changing behavior can be hard, and it helps to see others going through the struggle. It feels disingenuous to hear that everything was easy, so be honest about what parts were tricky.

Showing the journey of how you overcame small hurdles along the way to successful change helps others imagine themselves doing the same. While it may seem counterintuitive, being candid about challenges and solutions makes those looking on feel more capable of making a change, which increases the likelihood they try something new.

Acknowledging fears and abandoning doubts

We’ve all heard valid questions and concerns about climate-friendly behaviors, so acknowledging them is better than ignoring them. For example, if you were only exposed to bland vegetables as a side dish, you probably wouldn’t want to make that the main course. And those same veggie side dishes probably don’t have enough protein, so if that’s what you’re thinking about, you might be right to have nutritional concerns. Highlighting some really delicious and protein-rich options to start a plant-rich shift is a great way to show these concerns are just an initial worry and not a challenge that persists for those who are choosing to cook veggie-forward meals a few days a week.

There are perceived hurdles to every climate-friendly behavior. Acknowledging those doubts and fears can be helpful; after all, people are already thinking about them. Show how the doubts you had when you started ended up being much less of a big deal than you thought, or that the perceived issues people always ask you about haven’t been a problem at all.

Rare recently published a similar article as part of the Good Energy Group’s Good Energy Playbook: a resource that supports writers in portraying the climate crisis in scripted TV and film and creating entertaining climate stories that reflect our current reality. We have repurposed the article for content creators and influencers.


Interested in a partnership? Contact us at whatsgood@rare.org to explore possibilities.