Julian Wallace, 3, cuts down invasive privet with the help of his father Justin Wallace at Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth, Va., on Oct. 24, 2015. (Image by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Every April, people begin to seek out opportunities to volunteer their time in celebration of Earth Month. Whether its planting trees, picking up trash along streams or even removing invasive plant species, residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed do their part to protect our ecosystem. But how do we maintain these environmentally responsible behaviors long after Earth Month ends?

The answer lies in using social science practices to change how we interact with the environment in our everyday lives. The field of behavior change is rooted in such principles as behavioral economics, psychology and social science theory. It aims to move beyond public awareness and education campaigns, to those that can truly inspire people to change a behavior or adopt a practice for the good of the environment. Some examples of these strategies include visual prompts that remind you to do or not something, public pledges or incentives.

“In short, environmental problems are social problems,” said Kacey Wetzel, vice-president of programs for outreach and education at the Chesapeake Bay Trust. “We know our lands and waters will not be restored without the millions of residents in the watershed choosing to take civic action and adopt environmentally responsible practices in their everyday lives. Social science research has shown time and time again that people often need more than information to act.”

Introducing, Chesapeake Behavior Change!

The Chesapeake Bay Program is making it easier now more than ever for organizations and individuals to create public outreach campaigns that are rooted in behavior change. A new website, Chesapeake Behavior Change, provides data and information in an easily accessible format for nonprofits, local governments, academics and anyone interested in the social sciences, to design strategies intending to inspire watershed residents to take voluntary stewardship actions.

This web portal is making the groundbreaking Stewardship Index, first published in 2017, widely available to anyone who wants to know what actions residents across the Chesapeake Bay watershed are taking to protect clean water and restore environmental health, as well as how much of the region has volunteered or spoken out on behalf of the environment. It also forecasts future stewardship by measuring the willingness of watershed residents to engage in actions, and measures attitudes that motivate environmentally responsible behaviors. Engaged watershed residents taking stewardship actions around the watershed is a key part of ensuring that local watersheds and the Chesapeake Bay are healthy and sustainable.

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Stewardship Workgroup plans to refresh the data in late 2022 with another survey.

Five ways to use Chesapeake Behavior Change

Through Chesapeake Behavior Change, we have made it easy for people to utilize the survey data in a way that creates effective public outreach campaigns. You can use the tool to:

“Chesapeake Behavior Change is a perfect example of what is needed: a user-friendly, endlessly filterable, one-stop shop to learn about watershed residents’ knowledge and motivations, with detailed descriptions of the campaigns that have inspired adoption of new stewardship behaviors,” explained Ashley Traut, co-chair of the Stewardship Workgroup and senior advisor for the Greater Baltimore Wilderness Coalition. “This is a game changer for anyone looking to really move the needle forward for community-level action”.

Chesapeake Behavior Change was developed in coordination with the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Stewardship Workgroup, Anne Arundel County Watershed Stewards Academy, Chesapeake Bay Trust, GreenFin Studios and OpinionWorks, LLC.

To access a webinar on how to use the website, please visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s YouTube site to view, Inspire Local Stewardship with “Chesapeake Behavior Change”.

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