Systems and complexity

Why do some ethical behaviours fail to embed, and what can be done about it?

A friend recently expressed frustration on social media about the numbers of people still using single-use plastic bags when more ethical alternatives are available. This frustration is entirely understandable given the serious environmental damage caused by plastic bags. But will criticising people change anything?

Research in the United Kingdom looked at why the ‘bags for life’ reusable bags program had only a slow uptake despite a consistent ‘saving the environment’ message.

The researchers found that both institutions and individuals have an active amplification role to play in contributing to the eventual embedding of ethical behaviour. Individuals play a significant role in encouraging attitudinal change, and institutions are necessary for closing the intention–behaviour gap.

The second contribution is methodological. Rather than asking people to identify the barriers towards the use of ‘bags for life’, they were asked to articulate how they would personally persuade their friends and family to adopt their use. This is important because it identifies the attitude–behaviour gap that persists in their social settings. This will help in future campaign planning.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine ( and currently also teaches in the University of NSW (UNSW) Foundation Studies program in China. He has expertise and experience in a wide range of areas including knowledge management (KM), environmental management, program and project management, writing and editing, stakeholder engagement, communications, and research. Bruce holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction and a Certificate of Technology (Electronics). With a demonstrated ability to identify and implement innovative solutions to social and ecological complexity, Bruce's many career highlights include establishing RealKM Magazine as an award-winning resource for knowledge managers, using agile and knowledge management approaches to oversee the implementation of an award-winning $77.4 million river recovery program in western Sydney on time and under budget, leading a knowledge strategy process for Australia's 56 natural resource management (NRM) regional organisations, pioneering collaborative learning and governance approaches to support communities to sustainably manage landscapes and catchments, and initiating and teaching two new knowledge management subjects at Shanxi University in China.

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One Comment

  1. Did I hear somebody say “VW diesel”?
    It seems you can have all the corporate values in the world, but if you don’t engage the populace (or in VWs case, the employees) then it is all for naught.

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