Category Archives: Policy

Trusting Nudges?

By Lucia Reisch.

Policy makers all over the world increasingly choose nudges from the toolbox to combat challenges of society including public health and the environment. However, when we embrace nudges we should not only consider their benefits for society. We should also ask: Do people approve of using them, and why?

Nudges cover different interventions that steer people in certain directions. They can be everything from warnings on tobacco products to defaults for green energy. What is important: A nudge always allows people to choose themselves – and to opt out of a default. The approval of nudges is the focus of my new article written with co-authors Cass Sunstein and Micha Kaiser, recently published in the Journal of European Public Policy. Our analysis draws on an international survey from five countries: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, South Korea and the US. We asked a representative group of people in these countries if they approve of 15 widely used health and environmental nudges. We also checked for a long list of socio-economic, psychological, and social variable – including their trust in public institutions.

Most people do

A high level of support for nudges exists across countries and cultures. This is what we had found in earlier studies in about 25 countries worldwide. Yet differences in attitude show up across various beliefs, traits, and behaviours. Women and people with marked environmental concern are most likely to approve. At the same time, conservatives are less likely to do so. We see the force of behaviour when, for instance, a “meat-free Monday” in a cafeteria is less well supported by meat-eaters. Interestingly, this also applies to smokers who tend to disapprove of government anti-smoking campaigns.

Nudging from “above” requires trust from the base.

Trust is a must

While our analysis points to several findings, one might outshine the others. Approval comes with trust. To be more specific, we find the trust in public institutions strongly connected with social approval. In other words, when people have high trust in, e.g., government or police, they are likely to be supportive towards nudges. As expected, those who strongly believe in the free market to solve challenges of society will be less in favour.

Openness and transparency

The finding of trust gives a very important lesson. We should make sure to cultivate trust in arguing for nudges. Even though most people already approve of nudges, policy makers should not rest on their laurels but rather engage citizens in the development of new policies and ways of assessing their cost-effectiveness and acceptance. The best way to obtain trust is to earn it, and to invite citizens to participate. This is why we propose a “bill of rights for nudging” that sketches out the rules a government should follow when using nudging as a policy tool. Transparent rules and processes tend to create trust in institutions.

Author

Lucia A. Reisch is Full Professor for Consumer Behaviour and Consumer Policy at Copenhagen Business School.

Full article

Cass R. Sunstein, Lucia A. Reisch & Micha Kaiser (2018): Trusting nudges? Lessons from an international survey, Journal of European Public Policy, DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2018.1531912


Images

Header photo: a trash bin in Copenhagen.
Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash.

The Government of Business Responsibility

By Erin Leitheiser.

Governments play an important role in shaping the roles and responsibilities of business in society.

Promoting responsibility directly and indirectly

Whilst I have previously blogged about how business sometimes leads government in helping promote the public good, this in no way means that governments are not actively seeking to shape and promote responsible business conduct. Governments do this in a variety of ways, and frequently. As such, this post provides an overview of some of the notable policies put into place in just the last few months by governments world over, as well as some reflections about what this means for business responsibility.

Can companies be held liable for climate change?

According to a newly-filed suit, proponents hope that the answer will be “yes”. Following a 3-year investigation of Exxon Mobile, New York’s attorney general is suing the company not for its role in creating climate change (legal theories on these grounds have yet to gain much support) but for defrauding its shareholders by not following through on its promises to factor climate change risks – primarily regulatory and financial – into its business decisions.

Takeaway: Shareholders continue to represent a powerful avenue for legal action, and if successful, this case could break new ground on linking environmental and fiduciary responsibilities.

Everyday plastic objects pollute oceans and beaches.

Single-use plastics banned in Europe

The European Parliament voted for a sweeping ban on single-use plastics – such as straws, cotton swabs, plates and cutlery – due to come into force in 2021. Affected products have “valid alternatives” available and are estimated to represent more than 70% of the plastics polluting our oceans.

Takeaway: If business doesn’t move quickly enough to re-conceptualize products more sustainably, governments will increasingly exercise their power to exclude such products from the marketplace altogether.

Information Accessibility

In India, the Department of Telecommunications recently approved some of the strictest legislation regarding net neutrality, which protects Indians’ rights to have free and fair access to the internet. Providers will not be allowed to prioritize, promote, curtail, throttle or in any other way manipulate users’ access to content. In a de-evolution, the US recently repealed such protections for its residents. Google has increasingly come under fire for Dragonfly, it’s forthcoming censored search engine for the Chinese market.

Takeaway: The manipulation of citizens’ access to information is unethical, even if profitable.

California Leading the U.S. (and the world?)

Over the summer California established ambitious goals for 100% clean electricity and carbon neutrality by 2045. Last month, it became the first state to require publicly-traded companies to include women on the boards of directors. Now in October, the state has signed into law legislation requiring drug stores and hospitals to fund take-back programs to curb the improper disposal of needles and leftover prescription drugs which can lead to accidental poisonings and environmental harms.

Takeaway: State- or other non-federal level governments are sometimes the most nimble in their speed and vision for promoting business responsibility.

California paved the way to become a carbon neutral state.

NAFTA updated to promote sustainable forestry

Updates to NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – aim to crack down on illegal logging and promote sustainable forestry. In particular, it hopes to help address the deforestation of the Amazon – happening in large part due to demand by the NAFTA countries – by promoting sustainability within the logging industries of the U.S. and Canada.

Takeaway: By re-structuring the rules of the marketplace, governments can both address sustainability problems (e.g. deforestation) as well as promote more sustainable industry alternatives.

Updates to NAFTA against illegal logging and sustainable forestry.

What do businesses think of the ever-changing regulatory environment? While business is typically painted as anti-regulation, this is hardly a universal truth. Companies – particularly the more responsible ones – often want legislation. For example, Apple’s chief executive Time Cook recently spoke to the European Parliament where he warned against the weaponization of personal data, praised Europe’s new GDPR regulations, and called for similar (tougher) regulation in the U.S. as well. (Though it’s worth noting that companies may embrace or eschew responsibilities and legislation on a case-by-case basis; for example, Apple has just been hit with a 10 million Euro fine for its strategy of “planned obsolescence” of its phones).

Governments have and will continue to play an important role in shaping the roles, responsibilities and expectations of business in society.


Erin Leitheiser is a PhD Fellow in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School. Her research interests revolve around the changing role and expectations of business in society. Prior to pursuing her PhD, she worked as a CSR manager in a U.S. Fortune-50 company, as well as a public policy consultant with a focus on convening and facilitating of multi-stakeholder initiatives. She is supported by the Velux Foundation and is on Twitter as @erinleit.


Photos by: Jason Blackeye on Unsplash, and from pixabay.