Sustainable cities and Communities: The evolution

When working towards sustainable cities, it is essential to make its citizens behave sustainably to overcome environmental exposure. As the population in urban areas is rising it becomes even more important to improve citizen behaviour as inappropriate choices can harm the environment and ruin next generations possibility of enjoying the cities as our generation has.

In the Photo: Man wears a mask to keep away smog.  Photo Credit:  Kevin Grieve

Being responsible in our daily life is not always as easy as it sounds. Even though we have intentions of taking care of our surroundings, our choices are not always as sustainable as they could be. In our everyday hurry, our natural tendency to use as less effort as possible can easily make us forget to recycle, take the car instead of the environmentally friendly bike or bus, and throw our waste on the ground instead of in the bin. This factor of actual human behaviour makes it important to organise cities in ways that makes the right choice easy to over- come environmental exposure and ensure sustainability.

In the photo: Cardboard in a non-recycling bin. The convenient choice isn’t always the most sustainable but behavioural design can fix that Photo Credit: Jilbert Ebrahimi

Case: Preventing cigarette butts around Copenhagen Central Station

Copenhagen Central Station is one of the most frequented public areas in all of Denmark, and more than 100,000 people cross the station every day. Hence, it is important to keep this place safe, clean and sustainable. Despite signs and fines, over 1,150 cigarette butts are collected everyday… and that is just in front of the main entrance. Cigarette butts are not biodegradable and have to be removed.This costs the municipality around DKK 2.00 for every single cigarette butt which has to be cleaned up.That is an annual cost of DKK 840,000 (~$130,000) just in front of the building.

In the photo: Cigarette butts are made from Cellulose Acetate, a non-biodegradable plastic. Photo Credit:  Paweł Czerwiński

To overcome the problem, our strategy was to invite and guide the smokers to make the right choice instead of prohibiting the wrong.The first behavioural design solution was to create obvious, visual guidelines for smoking areas and where to discard your cigarette butt. A tile was also removed from the ground and replaced with a yellow grate, serving as another way to dispose cigarettes.This allowed smokers to follow their normal habits, however, instinctively guiding them to make the correct choice of disposing their cigarettes.

When testing the effect of the interventions, we found that 31% of the cigarette butts ended in the dedicated ashtrays and yellow grate after implementation.This would be a cost reduction for the municipality of DKK 260,000 annually (~$40,000).The insights and solutions could be transferred to other urban areas limiting the waste and consumption volume and secure a sustainable development of cities.


About the Author /

More than 10 years’ experience in conducting behavioural design studies, measurably nudging consumers towards better, greener and safer decision-making in global markets. Sille is the developer of the Krukow methodology for piloting and developing nudge solutions – a methodology that generates substantial business results on top of enabling great decision-making. She has substantial knowledge within the field of applied behavioural science, nudging, impact on and effective communication towards consumers and has been executing projects across sectors and industries on a global scale. She acts as a spokesperson and trusted advisor on CSR and sustainability related and global agendas.

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