Single Action Bias: The One and Done Effect

I’m on my high horse here, folks, just a disclaimer.

I have a big pet peeve, and it’s laziness. It really gets on my nerves when people are lounging around while there’s work to be done. I worked for Camp Mowglis for the past two summers, and my Camp Director Nick Robbins would always say, “if not you, then who?” That really resonated with me, and I really wanted it to with others as well. I see too many people walking past litter on the ground without thinking twice. Where’s the self-leadership? Alright, enough complaining. There’s a point to this, I swear.

Laziness takes many forms, as we all know, and one of the most prominent, although potentially unrecognized, in the world of sustainability, is “single action bias.” Upon reading UC Berkley’s “Guide to Successful Communication,” I came to know about this concept, and it really made my blood boil. Single action bias is when “people pick a small, or totem, behavior to change and then stop there” (11).

A classic example is your neighbor that goes to the soup kitchen only once a year and thinks that’s enough. While working at a homeless shelter one time, a man came in to cook and explained to me that he does this every December as his “one good deed of the year.” I was dumbfounded. Since when does kindness have a cap?

The single action bias is a web people can get caught in when they perhaps just don’t have enough information on how to keep helping – at least that’s what I’m telling myself. It’s obviously not enough to do something once and call it quits, and this bias needs escaping.


I hiked Moosilauke over the weekend. A single action bias here might include me saying: “Well, I hiked one mountain. That’s enough exercise for the year.” CC By Kate Burgess

Works Cited

James, Rachel. (2010). “Promoting Sustainable Behavior. A Guide to Successful Communication.” University of California Berkley Office of Sustainability.

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We want our cake, and we’ll eat it too


Proud inventors of the selfie, and the less proud inheritors of student debt, we are a force to be reckoned with. We’re entering the job and real estate market, coming in hot, with lots of expectations for the world to fulfill.

When it comes to housing, as developer Jordan Ilyes puts it in his article about Millennial expectations, we want more than just a place to lay our head. We’re looking for “Hassle-free living,” and “walkability,” both in addition to low costs and high quality amenities.

So what does this mean in terms of sustainability? Well, it’s hard to tell. But one idea I have is that this precise and narrow list of expectations and demands could potentially drive Millennials towards TinyHome or simple living. With the right marketing, this alternative living movement could really hit home, pun intended. Tiny Homes, van life, and ideas of the same sort all match the expectations that we have.

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#Vanlife. Here’s my partner Kurt, living out of his van before it got flooded in the Spring.

Want no hassle? Try having your car and living space be the same, with a van. Want walkability? Build your Tiny House right outside of the center of town. Affordability? Say no more; say goodbye to mortgages and monthly payments.

Granted, this article only brought one opinion to the table, but I’m hopeful that these kinds of desires are widespread. We just want things to be easy and cheap; that’s what it

comes down to. Sustainability is easy and cheap, and cool. Maybe, that’s the direction we’ll head.

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Bird is the Word

120 People. 6 hours. 1 bird.

The Forest to Forest: Bicknell’s Conferenceheld on October 25 gave me insight on more than just a speckled, winged, and threatened creature. With 4 speakers from around the world giving their words of wisdom and research, this was an opportunity to learn about conservation efforts from different perspectives, all of whom, using the bird, the Bicknell’s Thrush as a case study and an impetus for these efforts. They spoke of the two habitats where the bird spends its time: the Northeast U.S. and Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic), the former during the summer, and the latter for its winter residence. With two entirely different habitat types, and different cultures that occupy each location, this opened up the dialogue around those two areas of the world, and the issues that exist between. These were articulated well by the speakers and well informed participants in the audience.

My biggest takeaways were multifaceted. It was clear that the scope of the conference was to educate, integrate, and activate.

Education was probably the largest byproduct of the three; for the layman attending the conference, the best takeaway is education. With a basic knowledge, they could continue to learn and potentially take action later down the line. We learned about the Bicknell’s Thrush in general, its habitat, range, breeding patterns, migration patterns, threats to its survival, and reasons why we should care. We heard from a member of the USFS, and our concerns were met with solutions, as Leighlan Prout talked about mitigation strategies put into place in the Northeast. Lastly, we were educated about how this issue intersects with human development, politics, and even corruption in Hispaniola, predominantly Haiti. I walked away with a much broader, yet detailed, understanding of the interdisciplinary factors around the threats to this species.

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Here’s the Bicknell’s Thrush in a Northeast, boreal forest. (Source:

Aside from education, another evident goal was community engagement. Not only were we there to learn, but we were there to practice. Being able to reinforce the concepts we had heard all morning into a visual project helped start to build relationships in the community, with members like ourselves, who care about biodiversity, and could be good contacts to have in the future. Perhaps this goal was unintentional, but successful nonetheless.


The integration part was really cool as well. After the speakers, well, spoke, we formed groups and made a visual representation of what we learned to be later hung in the White Mountain Museum in Plymouth. This was a good way to reinforce what we learned and get to know people from our community.

Lastly, I was inspired to get active. This sort of built off of the last two aspects mentioned, because the more people who are informed, and the more these informed people get to know each other, the more talk there’s going to be about the issue, and the more we can accomplish in terms of mitigation and conservation. It’s difficult to get funding and support for a lesser known initiative driven by a couple people. However, this conference boosted the Thrush’s chances of getting help because now there are so many more minds available to collaborate and contribute.

I feel compelled, given the knowledge I gained and people I met, to take action to help this threatened species in particular, and conservation on a broader scale.

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How do we market Sustainability?

In my last post, I talked about how we can fall victim to the many brainwashing/greenwashing strategies of corporations who take advantage of our lack of environmental knowledge. In this week’s episode of things Kate learns in class, I’d like to share a concept that helps combat some of the marketing challenges that we encounter on a typical trip to the grocery store: Community Based Social Marketing.

Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM) is a system that was created to foster sustainable behavior. It’s essentially a set of tools that doesn’t focus on a change in people’s values (eg: making them feel guilty about the dog’s in ASPCA commercials, so they’ll donate), but instead on behavior. Behavior is easier to change than a person’s values, and it’s this concept upon which marketers have capitalized.

Another idea embedded within this concept is that just providing more information rarely results in a behavioral change. Ok, so if behavior is what needs to be changed, and simply educating them about what they should do more of/do differently doesn’t alter their behavior, then what does?


CCBY QFamily

Seeking information about the consumer. Identifying where they’re at in the process is key. Take someone who wants to quit smoking, for example. CBSM has been incredibly useful in helping people quit smoking, so it is a relevant example. The first stage in someone who wants to quit smoking is precontemplation, thinking things like, “Man, I’m spending a lot of money on cigarettes and my breath is really short all the time.” The next stage is contemplation, where a smoker considers kicking the habit. Third is determination, where they choose between quitting or not. Fourth is actionwhere they start to actually kick the habit. Fifth, is maintenance, where they either, six, relapse, or make a permanent exit and quit for good.

This is useful when marketing behavior to others, say about recycling habits, buying greener cars, and so on. It’s complex, and consumer oriented, and it has proved incredibly efficient.

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How can we be smart shoppers AND environmentalists?

Sustainability is a sexy idea. It’s on par with using “juice” as a verb and drinking colorful Starbucks lattes. It’s cool, progressive, and businesses love to drop the word in product descriptions to catch the eyes of eager beavers like me, who, when I purchase something, want to buy anything and everything dubbed “green.” The problem with this, is that we often become susceptible to Greenwashing, which is, essentially when businesses or corporations aren’t exactly telling the whole truth about how environmentally friendly their product is.

When you see terms like “Natural” on your food products, that means just about nothing. There are loose regulations on what corporations can put on their products, and for the unsuspecting but good-intentioned customer who just wants to support their natural environment, they fall prey to the tactics. They end up buying a product that is much farther from natural, organic, or sustainable than they were intending.

So, how can we combat Greenwashing and become smarter shoppers?


Here’s what a Life Cycle Analysis might look like. Source: PKGPackaging

In many ways. For one, using the good old “Google” is a great way to foil business’ plans. Check out their websites, and see if the specs match up to the label. If you want to go even further, look up the “Life Cycle Analysis” which aims to survey the entire environmental impact of a product. Every company and product should have one; if they don’t, that’s a huge problem. If they do, look closely at the language they use, and how much information they’re willing to offer. More often than not, missing information is a sign of them hiding something they don’t want you to see.

The bad news is, corporations are constantly trying to bamboozle us. The good news is, we can fight back!

Photo full source:
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Plan of Attack for my Sustainable Living-Themed Research Article and Project

Research Article: Timeline and Plan for my Sustainable Living- Themed Research Article

What am I researching?

For my research article, I’ve decided to investigate something that I believe is relevant to every living and non-living being on this planet: tacos! No, just kidding. I’ll be researching sustainability as a topic, as a lifestyle, and how it is or is not attainable for the Average Joe. There are so many considerations I’ll need to take into account, so I’m toying with the idea of using the Socratic Method. By this, I mean I’ll ask a question, answer it, and then each answer will beg another question, and so on and so forth. I’m hoping to interview professionals in this field to get their personal opinions on the matter, specifically Dr. Len Reitsma and Dr. Brian Eisenhauer, and I’d really like to conclude with a solid yes or no to the following question: Is a sustainable lifestyle attainable to everyone?


The why of this article spreads far and wide. I care on a personal level, I care on a local level, I care on a global level…it goes on. Personally, knowing about the limits and opportunities for a sustainable lifestyle will keep me and my wallet healthy. On a local and global level, I want to see resources maintained and preserved for future generations, and I want people to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor without destroying the natural flora and fauna that surrounds. I hope that at least one person can read this and maybe think twice about the lifestyle they lead.

 Thoughts Overall:


CCBY Elliot Brown

Overall, it’s a hell of a question to answer. There are so many avenues to go down, and so many sub-questions to answer; it’s a very nuanced topic, and like Socrates’ work, each response begs another question. I am, however, really interested in the topic, and I look forward to compiling the research and writing something up that could potentially shape the way I build towards my future as an educator.

Timeline: 11 weeks until the due date
R+TN = Read and Take Notes
Week 1 of Sept 26:
R+TN on 2 articles
Make a loose outline for the paper
Week 2 of Oct 3
R+TN on 2 more sources
Definitively create the outline
Week 3 of Oct 10
R+TN on 2 more sources
Interview Dr. Brian Eisenhauer
Draft Introduction and Key Terms
 Week 4 of Oct 17
R+TN on 2 more sources
Write up Dr. Brian Eisenhauer’s piece
Interview Dr. Len Reitsma
Draft another section of the paper
Week 5 of Oct 24
R+TN on 2 more sources
Draft another section of the paper
Week 6 of Oct 31
R+TN on 2 more sources
Draft another section of the paper
Week 7 of Nov 7
R+TN on 2 more sources
Draft another section of the paper
Week 8 of Nov 14
R+TN on 2 more sources
Draft another section of the paper
Week 9 of Nov 21
Start to revise and edit
Week 10 of Nov 28
Bring the paper to the Writing Center for peer review
Week 11 of Dec 5
Bring paper to the WC again
Week 12: DUE!


Research Project: Life in the Upside-Down Ice Cream Cone

What am I doing?

For my applied project for the Interdisciplinary Studies Capstone, I’ve decided to live in a Tipi and document my misadventures. I’ll be living there for all fourteen weeks of the semester, in the hopes that I will begin to practice what I’ve been learning and preaching in all of my classes. I also hope that I can educate the local community about the process so that others might be inspired to follow suit, or at least choose a more sustainable method of living.

IMG_0059Why am I doing it?

I’m doing this, yes, for the challenge and the adventure, but more so because I want to reduce my impact. After calculating my carbon footprint, I decided that it was time I
make a big change in the way that I was living. Also, I want to use this opportunity to, like I said, educate others who might be struggling to find ways to actually live in harmony with the Earth.

How am I doing it?

I’ll be blogging every week or so, updating my progress. I also plan to do a video blog or tour at some point to make it a bit more multimedia. Lastly, I’ll be photographing the tipi as the seasons change.

Thoughts Overall:

I’m really looking forward to having some purpose behind the project. I have several forums that I can use to educate folks (visiting Steven Whitman’s sustainable structures class, being interviewed by multiple sources, and perhaps presenting at a conference), so I’m excited to field any questions that come my way.

Timeline: 11 weeks until the due date
Each week/two: Write and publish a blog post
By October 20: Have a plan for where (if at all) I will be presenting about the experiences.


Tipi Life: Weeks 3 & 4

 My Dad asked me the other day if I ever got scared up here all alone in the woods. Sure enough, I had just listened to an hour-long podcast about a serial killer, so at that moment, I for SURE thought I was about to be bamboozled, for lack of a graphic term, by a dude running out of the trees.

“Totally,” I told him.

He clarified: “I meant scared by, I dunno, coyotes?”


I don’t feel too nervous about any wildlife out here, maybe naively because I believe I am Snow White and the animals are all my brothers and sisters. However, the method I’ve taken to in the last couple weeks, when I do sometimes get a little uneasy, is, I kid you not, to yodel. I figure: A) yodeling is hilarious, so at the very least, I’ll get a laugh out of myself, B) What serial killer/coyote is going to want to attack someone who yodels badly and often, and C) Maybe if I got good, I could summon some mountain goats, and they could protect me. Foolproof, I know.


I’ve come a long way from the first archetype… (this is what happens when the Burgesses are let loose on a beach in NZ for 4 hours)

Structural Updates

To further avoid the leakage/flood situation, I added a raised platform inside the tipi out of wood, and covered that up with a blanket for extra coziness. The only downside is that by literally walking the plank every day, I feel like a pirate.


 Life in the cone of shame has regularized over the last few weeks, which has given me more time to think about the “why?” of this whole project, rather than just the “how?”and “what?” The first idea that came to mind, or phrase, rather, was: practice what you preach. I found it hypocritical that I was studying environmental education, preparing to talk the talk, and yet I wasn’t walking the walk. I was more than ready to teach about how precious and finite fossil fuels are, how important it is to conserve water, and how we need to be vigilant about checking the sources of our products that we buy; at the same time, I was living in a warm apartment, taking showers once or sometimes twice a day, and always buying new. Something’s wrong with that.

I’m not saying that living a comfortable lifestyle is unsustainable; these are just observations I made in my own life. Of course I would encourage anyone to take steps that seem attainable in their own lives towards a more cost- and energy-efficient lifestyle, but I do realize that it’s not always that feasible. That’s why I decided to capitalize on the time that I do have during my last semester in college.

I want to believe in what I’ll be teaching, and to live up to the standards and expectations I hold out big corporations that I criticize. Hence came the idea of low impact living. If only for a semester, I wanted to see what it was like. I wanted to see if it was doable, it if was comfortable, and if I learned anything about myself or where I wanted to take my career. If it worked, I could vouch for such a lifestyle to others who might be interested. If it didn’t, I’d sure have one hell of a story.

To be frank, I know I’m not making any kind of impact on the world in my efforts to live closer to the Earth, let alone on my local community. My reduction in fossil fuels for the next three months is not going to hinder the global increase in atmospheric carbon concentrations, nor will it prevent phenomena like glacial calving or ocean acidification. I was naïve enough to think that Dobie Gray was singing “give me the Beach Boys,” instead of “give me the beat boys,” in his song “Drift Away,” but I’m not naïve enough to believe that I, Kate Burgess, am going to save the world by living in a triangle for the next few months. Even if I did it for the rest of my life. It’s important for me to recognize that, and for me to also recognize that in a lot of ways, this project is self-indulgent, and that I need to remember to be humble about what nature can teach me. Of course I still dream of reversing some of the anthropogenic impact we’ve imposed on this planet, and I completely intend on doing everything I can to do my part, but I can’t get ahead of myself in thinking that I am holier than thou, or even that I could be relieved from my duties as an eco-minded citizen because of this tiny project.

In being humble, I also want to remember to be grateful and gracious, not just to the people who have helped me out, but to the land I’m on and to all who have walked before me. The other night, I misplaced the top half of my retainer (yeah, yeah, I still wear it), and I spent upwards of an hour scouring the ground in the dark, retracing my steps until I gave up. I was not ready to have to drop a couple hundred bucks to replace it (that’s equal to…let me do the math…carry the 4…a LOT of Ramen). But lo and behold! The next day, I step out of the tipi, the retainer is sitting right next to the door pole on the ground. Upon seeing it, I kid you not, I yelled out “THANK YOU GREAT SPIRITS,” and did a little jig.


Tipi at Night (sans the raccoon that always tries to break in)

That night, when I was reading “Nature’s Way,” a book about native wisdom by a man who is a tribal member of the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota, I came across a part about being grateful to the ancestral spirits. Traditionally, upon receiving good news, he and his family would yell out “THANK YOU SPIRITS!” Dude knows what he’s talking about.

Oh I hear a Barred Owl as I type this! Neat.

Another idea I’ve been toying with is the idea of sustainability as a concept and what it really means. It’s an ambiguous term, and lately, after a few discussions in class, it’s become apparent that when using it, it’s unclear who’s doing the sustaining and what’s being sustained. It’s a sexy idea, one that’s easy to latch onto because of its prominence in marketing and media. I think it’s important, however, to dig deeper into the concept and discern a meaning that is both concise, and congruous to more distinguished ideas of environmental friendliness.

For my definition, I’ve boiled down a few core principles that I think may lend themselves well to living a lifestyle that is, in fact, sustainable (in the truest sense of the word), both in cost and efficiency of resources:

  1. Have an appreciation and respect for the land and impermanence of the resources on Earth
  2. Make informed choices about the products and services I purchase/engage in, considering their efficacy and economic value to all considered
  3. Act in ways that not only reflect a respect for the land/fauna, but in consideration of peoples’ safety and general happiness as well
  4. Be/get to be humble

I’m fortunate to have been able to have the time to think about this stuff, and I would love to have more topics to chew on, so any philosophical questions thrown my way would be gratefully received. This project has sparked a very interesting dialogue, and I’ve had so many good conversations with folks about cool initiatives they’re taking in their own lives as well. (Shout out to Dr. Reitsma who powers his car on Veggie Oil). Can’t wait to keep learning!



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