Climate Change Needs Behavior Change

Organization Name: 
Germanwatch e.V. (

Entry Overview

Reducing ecological footprints through behavior change builds on two pillars: 1. Will and ability to change one’s own behavior in everyday consumer choices. 2. Societal structures that enable people to live more sustainably. Focusing on the first pillar only won't create the critical mass to reduce society's footprint. This is why we say: “Decrease your footprint - INCREASE your Hand Print!”. Increasing one's Hand Print means to leave positive marks and anchor sustainable solutions in societal structures. With the Germanwatch Hand Print, we empower people to make the sustainable courses of action easier, ccooler, heaper & the natural choice for all. The structural Hand Print engagement requires a political thinking as well as methodological & advocacy know-how. With our Germanwatch Hand Print we inspire and enable people for this transformative engagement
General Information
First Name: 
Last Name: 
Organization type: 
  • Nonprofit
Email Address:
Kaiserstraße 201
Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen
Sectors impacted: 
  • Food and agriculture
  • Energy and transport
  • Land use and ecosystems
  • Material consumption
  • Other
Community type: 
  • Urban
  • Suburban
  • Rural
Population impacted: 
Context Analysis
Describe the context in which you are operating: 
In 2015, the Paris Agreement as well as the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed upon by the international community. Both frameworks underline the necessity to act upon current global challenges like Climate Change, biodiversity losses, increasing social inequalities, food and water scarcities or conflicts over resources. Three years later, these global agreements still need implementation on national, regional and local levels. A Bertelsmann study (2018) shows that especially high-income countries do not fulfill their ambitions – e.g. neither regarding emission-reductions nor in sustainable consumption and production. This is why we need transformative education for sustainable development: Civil society in the Global South and North needs to be empowered to drive changes in societal structures necessary to safeguard our natural resources and enable more global justice. Focusing on one own's footprint alone is not enough.
Describe the technical solution you wanted the target audience to adopt: 
The sustainable choice is often more expensive or more complicated than its unsustainable counterpart. Moreover, people tend to not change their behavior when there is no psychological strain & they stick to the behavior they are used to (power of habits). The solution promoted by the Germanwatch Hand Print is therefore the encouragement of a behavior that enables changes in structures to make the sustainable behavior easier. In different formats (e.g. workshops) we empower groups & individuals to increase their Hand Print by increasing (1) knowledge and awareness (2) feeling of responsibility and motivation (3) competencies for political and advocacy work as well as by (4) consulting projects and connecting different stakeholders. An example for Hand Print action: the initiation of a citizen initiative promoting public transport and cycling as the most attractive choice in the city center (e.g. through more cycling lanes, free public transport on weekends).
Type of intervention implemented (category descriptions)
Select all that apply: 
  • Emotional appeals
  • Social incentives
  • Choice architecture
Describe your behavioral intervention: 
We see individuals not only as consumers but as shapers of the world they live in. Therefore, we encourage a behavior that aims at changing structures to make it easier for all to follow sustainable lifestyles. This includes choices of travel, energy, food, clothes, housing, savings. Societal structures where changes have an influence on many people’s behavior can be on different levels: - Schools, universities - Clubs - workplaces - Religious communities - Neighborhoods, municipalities - Federal and international level Examples of levers for structural changes that can make sustainable behavior easier: - Cost advantages for sustainable choices (e.g. train rides should be less expensive than short distance flights and environmental damages resulting from the latter should be reflected in prices) - Sustainable options should be the “default option” (e.g. renewable energies for households getting registered) - Organizational sustainability guidelines (e.g. guidelines for regional & seasonal products in canteens) Hand Print action to move these levers can consist in political engagement linking international agreements (SDGs, Paris) to the different levels of action (town, neighborhood, school...): - writing and campaigning for citizens’ initiatives - writing letters to politicians - networking for an idea & start position papers with coalitions of different groups, creating new alliances - initiating dialogues with CEOs - organizing demonstrations
As needed, please explain the type of intervention in more detail.: 
According to the Norm-Activation-Model (Schwartz, 1977), one prerequisite for pro-environmental action (here: Hand Print engagement) is the activation of personal pro-environmental norms. These norms are influenced by 4 factors that we do address in our ESD, see point 1-4 under implementation: a) Problem awareness b) Ascription of responsibility c) Outcome efficacy d) Self-efficacy Moreover, we address social norms through best practice stories; and positive emotions through positive visions of the future. However, we know that situational factors are more influential than norms in defining how we behave (see Goal-framing theory, Lindenberg & Steg, 2007). This is why we encourage smaller groups of changemakers for structural changes.
Describe your implementation: 
External connections: 
Excerpt: National: - VENRO (umbrella organization of development and humanitarian aid NGOs in Germany) - Climate Alliance Germany - Bündnis ZukunftsBildung - evangelisches Forum entwicklungspolitischer Freiwilligendienst (eFeF) - … International: - CAN (Climate Action Network International) - Global Hand Print Network - … Germanwatch is member in these coalitions, spokesperson of several working groups and founder of some. Together, these coalitions work on the implementation of the SDGs and raise public awareness for environmental and development topics. They represent the interests of environmental and developmental NGOs in the political sphere and strengthen the role of civil society in policy making. There are many other organisations in Germany that - inspired by Germanwatch - start to work with the Hand Print in their educational work as well. The aim of the Global Hand Print Network is to “enable its members to find solutions to combat climate change by building capacity of individuals and organizations”. Therefore, the other member organizations actively promote networking and strengthen interactions amongst its members. This allows them to exchange information, be updated on the current sustainable practices, get recognized and leave a Hand Print globally. Within that network, Germanwatch is part of the international Hand Print Steering Committee (see:
Who adopted the desired behaviors and to what degree?: 
Most NGOs raise awareness for global challenges but then conclude with individual recommendations for CO2-reductions. Our perspective on learners doing the transformation themselves is therefore sticking out and our workshops and consulting become increasingly demanded. Educational institutes/ seminar houses as the Haus Wasserburg (Vallendar, Germany) include the hand print concept in their seminars and transform their whole operation with regard to food, energy or procurement Another example for a Hand Print action is a Position Paper for more Sustainable and Ethical Universities nationwide. The demands in the areas of operation, teaching, research and governance were recently communicated at a conference of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and are leading discussions for more renewable energy at universities or more sustainability-related modules in the curricula (see
How did you impact natural resource use and greenhouse gas emissions?: 
In educational work, the effects on the environment are usually indirect: A Germanwatch Hand Print workshop for 50 people at a conference out of which 30 people consequently develop 6 Hand Print actions to change unsustainable structures out of which out of which 4 projects are successful in changing structures in the end, could have the following impact: Assuming project A led to a nationwide divestment of a religious community from fossil fuels, project B led to new sustainable and fair procurement criteria in a medium-sized company, project C led to the construction of new bike-lanes to make cycling more convenient than going by car in a big city and project D led to a reduction of plastic packages in a supermarket chain, this might sum up to a reduction of more than 400.000t CO2 emissions of as well as to the protection of natural resources as of water. Moreover, the scope of the impact of a Hand Print depends on the level of the structure changed (neighborhood vs. European).
What were some of the resulting co-benefits?: 
It is the core idea of the Germanwatch Hand Print to let others, the environment and future generations co-benefit through structural changes. If a globally operating company decides to divest from fossil fuels because one employee has convinced the board with good arguments, this Hand Print engagement will accelerate the face-out of coal and reduce CO2 emissions (category: Climate Change mitigation). It will also help those having their money invested in the bank to invest their money more sustainably (sustainable finance). If a group of students decides to stand up with a citizen’s initiative against plastic packaging in supermarkets and enforces a law that reduces plastic waste for fruit and vegetables, this makes every consumer’s behavior more environmentally friendly (conservation). Another co-benefit for youth engaging in Hand Print Action is the experience of self-efficacy. This is an important impulse to further take on responsibility for the environment (community empowerment)
Replication and Scale
The Germanwatch Hand Print concept, the material, the workshops, blog posts, consulting and other formats address the target group of young activists mainly through multipliers like group leaders of initiatives, educators and other engaged citizens. This way, it is ensured that the Hand Print idea of transformative ESD will be passed over into many different networks. Moreover, the material produced so far is designed in a way that it is not out of date within a few years and it can be downloaded for free from our website (no monetary or geographical restrictions).
Return on investment: 
The development of the Germanwatch Hand Print concept, the material, workshops & other formats offered so far were financially supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Bread for the World and others with around 50.000€, a lot of “Zeitgeist” and our heart’s blood. The results of our work do not pay back in money, but Hand Print action can lead to more sustainable transport systems, guidelines for sustainable procurement in companies, agreements on climate neutral investments by cities and many other structural changes. Taken together this action against Climate Change can reduce risks of Climate Change that would be far more expensive than the investments in the empowerment for Hand Print action.
How could we successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 
It is our practice to pass on the ownership of the Germanwatch Hand Print to new multipliers in our workshops where we also invite others to further develop the concept with us. This has been done already within Germany, where the Hand Print is now used in the community of volunteer-year returnees. Also, most of the Hand Print material is meant for multipliers. This allows to easily replicate the Hand Print idea of transformative action on different societal levels at different places on the world. At a national conference for ESD (WeltWeitWissen 2018), the Germanwatch Hand Print was honored as an outstanding example for global learning and ESD. In the laudatory speech, the jury underlined that the concept starts where others like the footprint stop: Where responsibility goes further than changing individual consumption patterns but into shaping political processes. It is also this kind of public recognition that helps further spreading the idea of the Germanwatch Hand Print.

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