BECC, TDM and Me

I spent the beginning of this week attending the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change (BECC) conference, and even presented about Arlington Transportation Partners’ Champions program, a program we developed after I was first inspired by Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) at BECC in 2012. It is a great conference because behavior change is fascinating and very pertinent to the work ATP does – shifting travel modes is definitely behavior change. BECC 1

I’ve always been fascinated by why people do things (myself included) and what influences us all. Knowing why people do things helps us figure out how to help them do things better. The conference is focused on climate change, yes, and the majority of the attendees are from the energy industry, but there are also water resources, transportation, schools/children, food waste, employees/work engagement/factories, lots of marketing, some design research companies, and so on. The real focus is how to we inspire people to care for the planet, and empower them to make changes in their lives that will help us all be healthier and have a healthy planet for generations to come.

Illume Tweeted this photo of my colleague Maggie and I as #womeninenergy

Illume Tweeted this photo of my colleague Maggie and I as #womeninenergy

This is the third year in a row that I have attended (and the second time I presented), and this time, as with other times, there has been much to learn and experience. It always takes me a while to sort through my notes, photos and thoughts, but here are some initial takeaways:

  • This being DC, there were some heavy hitters for key note and plenary speakers. Tuesday we listened to the US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Wednesday our closing plenary included Congressman Paul Tonko and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Dennis V. McGinn. Congressman Tonko and Secretary McGinn (what’s the appropriate title here?) were both dynamic speakers, and Mr. McGinn got in some great on-liners: “Isn’t it wonderful that Noah understood something about climate change? And isn’t it wonderful that he did something about it?” Ha!
  • Design Research – Andrew Burroughs of IDEO and Lisa Jackson of frog design presented on visual designs and how it influences our behavior. As a visual person, I strongly believe that how things are visually presented to us have such power over us, whether or not we do something or not do something based on how it looks, how we interact with things, and so on. I was extremely inspired by them, and wonder how I can translate my design background, my history research background, and current TDM work into this type of work.
  • Illume, one of the sponsoring companies, had an illustrator drawing our Tweets on Tuesday, which was really fun to see! Alas, I hadn’t Tweeted much and forgot to include #picturechange, so mine didn’t get drawn – but check out the stuff she did draw!
  • The “Breaking Bad” film evening was fun. I hadn’t been before, but I enjoyed the curated commercials, the “billboard” activity we did in small groups and presented to the entire room, and of course the wine was a nice touch.
  • They always feed us well, and there are not only vegetarian meal options, but vegan and gluten-free as well. One lunch is always all vegetarian. I especially like the fact that they give us cards to place in front of us on the table, so the servers can easily identify who gets which meal. This is so much easier for all parties involved, since the servers usually can’t see a colored dot on our name tags, and we don’t have to hassle over them to get us the right food. Other conferences, TAKE NOTE!
  • The sessions I attended seemed to be a bit heavier on the academic research paper presentations. I know part of BECC is academic-focused, but for me, seeing how other organizations have successfully run campaigns and programs and have behavior-changing results is what I am there for. I need to have something concrete to take back to my office and work on. I got plenty of ideas, but there were too many text- and formula-heavy PowerPoint slides for my taste. I wonder if they could do tracks, so you could go to the academic track, the ideas/design track, the real world track, etc. That would be useful.

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The most basic function of TDM is to education and inform people about their transportation options, helping them making choices about how they travel, yet behavior research shows that information alone is not enough to get people to do something. As one presenter said, “Simply asking people to do their best is not enough.” This is where all the behavior change techniques can come in handy, like public durable commitments and social norming, or even gamification. It’s rather exciting, really, to see how these two disciplines intersect. I wish there was more TDM at BECC, but maybe that’s what I need to do, figure out how to get these two together more. Hm… Challenge on!

Well, not really - or maybe I should say, not yet!

Well, not really – or maybe I should say, not yet!


Whirlwind Tour Through Northern CA

The Mechanic and I just returned from northern California, a whirlwind tour of my favorite childhood places. Ranging from Sacramento, to San Francisco, to Mendocino and Napa Valley, we covered a lot of territory in about ten days.

The first few days I was on my own in Sacramento at the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change conference. The keynote speaker was Dr. George Lakoff, whose book Don’t Think of an Elephant, I finished rereading on the plane. Panels on making behavior stick, social marketing, and even behavioral economics were all very inspiring. I attended last year, so I had a better idea of what to expect, but nevertheless, I came away energized (as it were) – as illustrated by me at the end of a conference workshop. IMG_7488

Before The Mechanic arrived after the conference was over, my mom and aunt and I went wedding dress shopping. Although we joked about having a “Say Yes to the Dress” argument, we had too much fun to even pretend to fight over something, and yes, I ended up getting a dress. But you’ll have to wait with The Mechanic until June 14 to see it!

I think this amazing sunset the day I bought my wedding dress was a mark of approval by the universe. (okay, probably not, but it's nice to think about!)

I think this amazing sunset the day I bought my wedding dress was a mark of approval by the universe. (okay, probably not, but it’s nice to think about!)

I dragged The Mechanic around Old Sacramento, where we had a tasty lunch at Rio City Cafe, toured the California State Railroad Museum, admired the new green lanes, and struck up conversations with the owners of Practical Cycle, a bike shop that specializes in electric bicycles and transportation bicycling. Their mission is “to make cycling more practical for everyday people,” people just like me, and I applaud them. More on them in a later blog post.

Practical Cycle, in Old Sacramento

Practical Cycle, in Old Sacramento

Then we spent Sunday night in San Francisco, where I was able to meet up with some friends, and geek out on the vintage streetcars, which I haven’t seen before. I haven’t spent any time in San Francisco in ages, so I was happily surprised at how bike-friendly the city has become. I’m sure any local will tell me it’s not perfect, but trust me, it’s an improvement!

We didn’t bike in SF but we rode the buses and streetcars everywhere. We were amazed at the fact that we never needed a bus schedule to figure out how long we needed to wait – they seemed to appear within 5-10 minutes! I really loved the streetcars, and the fact that they cost the same $2.00 as the buses did. We made use of our transfers, too. The Mechanic was super excited about the fact the electric buses are amazingly quiet.

After visiting Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, three friends, Golden Gate Park and the museums (although we didn’t go in any of them), Huckleberry Bikes, and watching the San Francisco Ballet “Nutcracker” projection in the mall dome, we drove up the coast to Mendocino, my most favorite place in the world, where we met up with my parents, aunt and cousin. We had a rental house just outside of Mendocino village for four nights, over Thanksgiving, allowing us time to really enjoy the area.

We vacationed here for a week every summer and the week of Thanksgiving for years, while I was in high school and college, and we used to consider ourselves locals of sorts. Local tourists? It’s been years since I was able to spend more than one night, and the weather gifted us with perfect warm temperatures and clear blue skies. I could go on and on about this area, but there just isn’t enough space! Pictures will have to do.

The Mechanic and my cousin and I drove back to Sacramento through Anderson Valley, where we did a wine tasting (and buying!) at Navarro Winery, plus a beer tasting at Anderson Valley Brewing Company (well, they did), and had a picnic lunch at Sattui Winery, the most crowded I have ever seen that place. Well, it was a perfect day, so who can blame the other tourists?!

My goodness we did a lot! I think the only reason why we weren’t exhausted at the end of this trip was because Mendocino was so relaxing. Wandering the Mendocino Headlands State Park, sitting watching the waves crash on the rocky shoreline, and just soaking up sunshine was almost all we did. It’s hard to relax and experience everything at the same time, but I think we did a pretty good job this trip! CAM00285



Behavior Change and You – and You, and You, and…

I had a lovely time in Sacramento and Napa, but I was actually in California for work. I attended the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change (BECC) Conference, and presented on two panels.

It was an amazing conference, one that I haven’t stopped thinking about. I’ve always been fascinated by why we do things, what prompts us to behave the way we do, and how we interact with each other, so this conference sort of blew my mind.

Keynote speaker Andrew J. Hoffman

Because of the focus of the conference, much of the talk centered on programs that encouraged people to do things like wrap their hot water heaters and install programmable thermostats. Curiously, the transportation panels focused on electric and hybrid vehicles, or biking and walking, but nothing in between like light rail. Surely getting people to ride the bus is better for the climate than all those SOVs?

People-Powered Presentations

The pre-conference workshop was an all-day event with Doug McKenzie-Mohr, a Canadian PhD who has coined the term “community-based social marketing.” This says that unlike information-based campaigns, which assume that people will change their behavior when they learn facts, people actually change their behavior based on their world view, which is framed by what they learn from friends and family. How much of  your news do you get from Facebook?

Doug McKenzie-Mohr

This social-based behavior was a theme that came up over and over. Basically, the message was that if you want to talk about climate change – don’t. And make is feel-good. Several presenters criticized Al Gore and the scare tactics of “An Inconvenient Truth.” Presenting climate change in dramatic facts and figures had the effect of overwhelming the public, and making them stick their heads in the sand. Talking about climate change automatically now makes people shut down, retreat, and avoid the topic.

Avoiding climate change?

Instead, focus on the individual and what impacts their personal life. Find people whom they respect and trust, and let those people model the behavior you want. Get individuals to make public, durable commitments to change – something that reminds them what they promised, and shows others that they did. Offer solutions, break down barriers, and make sure they understand the benefits. Help them create a social circle made up of people doing the desired behavior so they can support each other in good and bad times.

Making behavior change friendly!

As I listened to all of this, I thought about how I had started biking regularly, my experiences with Weight Watchers and healthy eating, and other areas of my life this type of behavior change has applied. In some ways, knowing all this makes me think it will be easier in the future to really make some personal changes stick.

Armed with this psychological warfare, I am already beginning to look forward to my New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe sharing them on my blog will make them public and durable, and I’ll be more likely to stick to them with the social network of this blog. I think it’s worth experimenting with, at least! Who’s with me for some behavior change?!


Slow Food and Cycling in Sacramento

When I was growing up, my friends and I could not wait to get out of Sacramento. From the time one of us had both a driver’s license and a car, we headed to San Francisco as often as possible. There we could find art and culture and cool restaurants and shops, everything our cowtown hometown seemed to be lacking.

Fast forward twenty-plus years. I rarely go home because my parents (thankfully) like to visit me, so it’s been about three years since I was last there. Boy was I surprised last week when I attended the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference (blog to follow)! Downtown Sacramento is now all about slow food and cycling – in short, a place I’d now be happy to live in!

Bicycles were locked up outside of every restaurant in downtown Sacramento.

Over breakfast at long-ago favorite Fox and Goose, a friend explained Sacramento’s new “Farm to Fork” status, and the Slow Food movement with “Snailies” – snail awards for participating slow food restaurants in town. As someone who supports, although can’t always afford, slow food, I felt obligated to try one. I dragged my BikeArlington colleague, also at the conference, to Lucca Restaurant, and we were so impressed by the delicious food! And the prices weren’t bad either.

Lucca also does a farmer’s market dinner on Sundays. I’d love to try this.

I hit a few other new places, as well as visited a long-time favorite coffee shop, now in a new location.

Cafeteria 15L – grown up comfort food in a huge space, with a courtyard shared with two other places.

Skillet S’mores at Cafeteria 15L


Yes, I have been going to Capitol Garage for 20 years – boy does that make me feel old.

Having so many great (and huge! Every place downtown was in a space that could hold several NYC restaurants!) within walking distance to just about anything in downtown and midtown would have made me a much happier person. Let’s ignore the fact that I was then a poor college student, shall we?

I had been told that Sacramento had become a huge bicycling city, so I shouldn’t have been surprised at the number of bikes and bike racks I saw everywhere, yet I was.

One of the Edible Pedal delivery bikes cruising past a Sacramento landmark.

More delivery bikes, this time for Pizza Rock.

Lots of fixies – the city is pretty flat, so I guess that would be fine. I love the lights on this bike!

Out for a spin on my mother’s adorable cruiser bike.


I was disappointed to not have had time to cruise around on a bike, but I did take Light Rail from my parents neighborhood to downtown, and was HUGELY impressed by the bike racks in the light rail cars. Yes, that’s right, I said IN the cars. Bikes are permitted in the light rail cars at all times, in designated areas, although signs to say cyclists may be asked to leave if trains are too crowded. When I rode it, there was a high volume of what people might consider “undesirables,”  compared to New York or the Washington DC area, where everyone rides the subway system. I was continually cautioned against riding it at night.

I guess now I need to return to Sacramento soon and explore more of this slow food cycling city. The Mechanic needs to experience my hometown anyway. But I will offer Napa Valley and San Francisco to sweeten the deal.