Making Shift Happen:

Designing for Successful Environmental Behavior Change

2023 Gold Medal Nautilus Book Awards Winner

The changemaker’s guide to catalyzing environmental behavior change for a healthy future

To tackle our urgent environmental problems and achieve positive, durable change, we must design solutions based directly on how people think, make decisions, and act.

From hotels that save water and money using simple signage, to energy suppliers that boost participation in renewable energy programs through mere enrollment form tweaks—shifting the behavior of millions for the better is possible. 

Based on decades of research into what drives behavior change, Making Shift Happen provides a suite of powerful tools to transform the world. It features A to Z guidance on how to design a behavior change initiative—from choosing the right audience and uncovering what drives their behavior, to designing, prototyping, testing, and implementation. 

Clear instructions and real-world examples empower you to apply hundreds of behavioral science solutions including:

  • Using social norms to spread positive environmental behaviors
  • Selecting and testing stories, metaphors, and values to frame information for each audience
  • Capturing your audience’s attention and reducing barriers to action
  • Catalyzing action by aligning your initiative with your audience’s personal and social motivators
  • Breaking bad habits and building positive ones
  • Connecting people with nature and building empathy for the environment and its inhabitants 

Making Shift Happen is a must-have guide for practitioners in non-profits, governments, and businesses looking to design successful campaigns and initiatives that shift behaviors and mindsets toward positive environmental outcomes and a better future for all.


This book gives us a gift we have needed for a long time—an engagingly written, scientifically grounded treatment of what specific steps we each can take to combat the specter of climate change and its toxic effects. Count me impressed.
Robert Cialdini
author, Influence and Pre-Suasion
Making Shift Happen brilliantly reveals that the only way to make meaningful progress on complex environmental issues is to understand that they must be addressed as human issues, requiring far more than traditional, facile solutions. I sincerely hope the remarkable wisdom and practical guidance offered here will be embraced by practitioners and funders. It would be transformational.
Steve McCormick
managing director, Draper Richard Kaplan Foundation, former president, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, former president and CEO, The Nature Conservancy
Making Shift Happen brings behavioral science alive, weaving research findings with practical examples. The book provides foundations and principles that can be used to advance a sustainable future. It’s timely, grounded in behavioral science, and practical.
Wesley Schultz
Professor of Psychological Science, California State University
As environmental advocates and policymakers work to create lasting cultural changes, they need tools to complement their existing methods. Making Shift Happen is an excellent guide to utilizing select tools from a spectrum of disciplines that have explored how to change the behavior of individuals or communities. It will be an invaluable tool for all practitioners in the environmental space.
Rainer Romero-Canyas
lead senior social and behavioral scientist, Environmental Defense Fund
Behavior design is the next frontier in environmental policy. We know what we need to do to build a just and sustainable world, but humans are creatures of habit and inertia, and changing course is hard. That's where Making Shift Happen comes in. This is the tool kit to get people and institutions moving in the right direction to usher in a much greener and healthier era.
Jason Scorse
director, Center for the Blue Economy, Monterey Institute of International Studies
Developing and designing effective communication approaches to help frame pro-environmental behaviors in ways that are compatible with people’s personal and social motivators is crucial to behavior change initiatives. Making Shift Happen includes research-based recommendations on how to do just that, and it does so in a manner that is very user-friendly and easy to digest.
Katie Abrams, PhD
associate professor, Center for Science Communication, Colorado State University
If humans came with a manual, this would be it. You won't find a more comprehensive resource for designing effective behavioral interventions.
Kim Wolske, PhD
research associate professor, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago
Making Shift Happen democratizes the research and best practices behind what influences people to make lasting positive change for nature and people. The brass ring is durable, systems-level change and this book is meant for practitioners looking for just this kind of impact.
Meg Caldwell
deputy director, Oceans, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
A fascinating workshop-in-a-book that takes practitioners through the entire intervention design and implementation process of creating the conditions under which change happens, grows, and endures. Importantly, the self-care of practitioners and their audience is dealt with in some detail, providing evidence-based explanations of the process involved in and the means of securing resilient, long-term engagement in environmental stewardship. After all, burned out people can’t heal the planet.
Raymond De Young
professor, Environmental Psychology and Planning, University of Michigan, co-author, The Localization Reader
Provides some much needed, research-based, practical advice on how change agents can actually bring about desirable reductions in human pressures on the environment.
Paul C. Stern, PhD
president, Social and Environmental Research Institute
Completely fascinating—we've learned a lot about the ways minds work in the last decades and that may help us figure out how to appeal to our better angels more effectively than in the past. Rest assured that people who want to sell us junk are paying attention to these insights—the rest of us better do so too!
Bill McKibben
author, The End of Nature
An invaluable resource for program managers in non-profit groups, government agencies, and companies. Blending a sophisticated understanding of social science with an obvious concern for the environment, this book will become a standard guide for designing behavior change programs.
Michael P. Vandenbergh
professor, David Daniels Allen Distinguished Chair of Law, director, Climate Change Research Network, Vanderbilt University Law School
A much-needed overview of research-based best practices for encouraging pro-environmental behavior. The authors have sorted through a wide range of cutting-edge and often confusing and complex behavioral science from multiple disciplines and broken these down into a manageable set of behavioral building blocks. The result is a great cheat sheet of guidelines for anyone trying to shift people’s behavior on climate change, environmental conservation, or other environmental topics.
Kaitlin T. Raimi, PhD
associate professor, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan
Too often those trying to move society toward sustainability are unaware of the research on decision making and social change. Making Shift Happen does an impressive job of introducing science-based strategies for change. It is useful in and of itself and a good starting point for further exploration.
Thomas Dietz
University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Environmental Science and Policy, Michigan State University



Developed with upper division and graduate students in mind, Making Shift Happen offers clear, step-by-step guidance that will empower your applied environmental class to start designing real-world projects today.


Whether you work for a non-profit, government, or business, this playbook provides a proven step-by-step method that can help you design and execute behavior change initiatives that transform the world.


Behavior is embedded in most problems that environmentalists are trying to solve. Rich in methodology and practical tools, Making Shift Happen is the perfect toolkit for you and your grantees working to shift behaviors and reach sustainability goals.


Making Shift Happen can help change any environmental behavior, big or small. It’s brimming with interesting studies, vivid anecdotes, and evidence-based techniques that you can apply to adopt positive behaviors of your own!


Nya Van Leuven
Nya Van Leuvan
Lauren Highleyman
Lauren Highleyman
Rod Fujita
Rod Fujita
Ashleigh Kellerman
Ashleigh Kellerman


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