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Create and support a network of “Well Cells” to increase personal well-being and reduce consumption of resources and emissions of carbon.



Because all market activities and most human behaviors in rich world economies (essentially the OECD countries of North America, Europe, Asia, and Australasia) consume energy, the primary driver of excessive emissions of carbon driving climate change is over-consumption. Is it possible to persuade people to consume less? We argue that it is possible and describe interventions to encourage direct pursuit of well-being and reduce energy-consuming behaviors.

What actions do you propose?

Economists prescribe fiddling with incentives or “getting prices right” and environmentalists demand regulation of energy production and consumption. Strikingly both groups effectively advocate top-down political intervention to force changes in personal behaviors. Yet, behavioral change is more effective, if voluntary, if freely chosen. Therefore, we have designed an approach to behavioral change that works from the bottom-up by showing everyone how their lives will be better if they consume less.

In rich countries capitalism has installed and enforced the perception that to live well requires much “getting and spending” as Wordsworth wrote. In short, happiness is seen as closely tied to consumption if not its direct result. However, research shows that material consumption is nothing more than a hedonic treadmill in which purchases only briefly assuage dissatisfaction or unhappiness (Kasser 2002;Diener, Lucas, and Scollon 2006). While the link between happiness and income is tenuous (Kahneman, 2010; Easterlin 1974; Easterlin 2003), research in psychology suggests that well-being – the personal development of individual capabilities and ‘powers’ (Aristotle 2009; Ryff and Singer 2008)– requires satisfaction of psychological rather than material needs (Deci and Ryan 2000, 2008), specifically:

  • Autonomy: the sense that actions are freely chosen and conform with our personal values
  • Competence: the belief that we are in control and can handle an increasingly complex social and economic environment
  • Relatedness: because humans are social animals we need a sense of belonging and connections to others.

Once we have satisfied these psychological needs we can become fully engaged in developing our personal powers and pursuing personal well-being. Because consumption plays no part – beyond sufficiency – in the pursuit of well-being the more people who pursue their personal well-being the lower consumption will be. In this way we can save the planet by living well.

As social animals we learn best from our neighbors and friends, from the people we choose to associate with (Cialdini 2009). Social conformity is powerful. Thus, changing minds and influencing behavior may be achieved through:

  • Social media that are effective because they show us what everyone else is doing. Social or viral marketing may effectively change behaviors and influence mental models and may be particularly effective with certain groups who already are searching for simplicity, authenticity, or meaning (Harrison 2014: 131-135). If rich societies are indeed moving toward a post-materialist culture as some research suggests (Inglehart 2000), this will leverage the impact of well-being. And if “influentials” are persuaded to take up the the pursuit of well-being, the idea may spread rapidly (Watts and Dodds 2007).
  • Well Cells that are community-based voluntary groups that form and evolve ‘naturally’ and are the nodes within which people exchange ideas with their chosen associates and friends on how to reduce consumption and increase well-being. Just as investment clubs and book groups may improve individual financial returns and reading comprehension these groups are where techniques for ‘positive deviance’ that cement new ideas through effective behaviors are developed and exchanged (Pascale, Sternin, and Sternin 2010).
  • Heartbeat Organizations that continue to pump energy into the Well Cells to help them form and expand by:
    • Creating and supporting a network among Well Cells to exchange information on techniques that have led to effective behavioral change and eventually to changed mental models and personal values.

Providing positive feedback through research on techniques that may work and publication of the benefits of well-being and the consumption reductions among members of Well Cells.

Who will take these actions?

Though experiences and practices of their members Well Cells will support the pursuit of well-being among their members and seek to expand their membership through members’ personal contacts.  


Well Cells will be encouraged to form and will be supported by Heartbeat Organizations. While national or state political support might be beneficial, the most effective actors will be Heartbeat Organization primarily comprised of NGOs. Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations may raise grant funds to support the activities and development of Well Cells, technical support to the Well Cell network.


In addition, specifically purposed B Corporations may be provide cost-effective support to Well Cells that are adapted to support services such as publications and other materials as well as social marketing. While it seems counter-productive to use consumable services to support well-being and reduce consumption, it is probable that corporations will seek to profit from the well-being trend and the early development of B Corporations active in this space may reduce the influx of crass commercialism.


Where will these actions be taken?

How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?

Reducing consumption inevitably reduces energy consumption. Even without increasing the energy efficiency of production and consumption or converting to green energy, fossil fuel demand and their carbon emissions will fall.   

What are other key benefits?

As more people turn from the extrinsic rewards of consumption to the intrinsic rewards of personal well-being, society may slowly become less competitive, less violent, and more tolerant of differences. The use of alcohol and more illegal drugs may diminish.

What are the proposal’s costs?

We have not yet costed this proposal in detail. However, the costs of creating an online  presence and providing support – primarily through the Internet – to Well Cells are not likely to be significant while the potential benefits could be substantial especially if the social ground turns out to be more fertile for these seeds than is currently assumed.

Time line

While development of the on-line resources should consume some six months bottom-up approaches are inherently slow, especially in complex social systems. However, once a tipping point is reached, the practice and ideas of well-being will spread rapidly. As with living systems this evolutionary process cannot be accurately predicted.  

Related proposals


Aristotle. 2009. Nichomachean Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cialdini, Robert B. 2009. Influence : science and practice. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

Deci, Edward L., and Richard M. Ryan. 2000. "The "What" and "Why" of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Determination of Behavior."  Psychological Inquiry 11 (4):227-268.

Deci, Edward L., and Richard M. Ryan. 2008. "Self-Determination Theory: A Macrotheory of Human Motivation, Development, and Health."  Part of special issue on: Social Psychology and Self-Determination Theory: A Canadian Contribution 49 (3):182-185.

Diener, Ed, Richard E. Lucas, and Christie Napa Scollon. 2006. "Beyond the Hedonic Treadmill: Revising the Adaptation Theory of Well-Being."  American Psychologist 61 (4):305-314.

Easterlin, Richard A. 1974. "Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot?" In Nations and Households in Economic Growth: Essays in Honor of Moses Abramovitz, edited by Paul A. David and Melvin W. Reder, 89-125. New York: Academic Press, Inc.

Easterlin, Richard A. 2003. "Explaining Happiness."  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100 (19):11176-11183. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1633144100.

Harrison, Neil E. 2014. Sustainable capitalism and the pursuit of well-being.

Inglehart, Ronald. 2000. "Globalization and Postmodern Values."  The Washington Quarterly 23:215-228.

Kasser, Tim. 2002. The high price of materialism. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Pascale, Richard T., Jerry Sternin, and Monique Sternin. 2010. The power of positive deviance : how unlikely innovators solve the world's toughest problems. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business Press.

Ryff, Carol D., and Burton H. Singer. 2008. "Know Thyself and Become What You Are: A Eudaimonic Approach to Psychological Well-Being."  Journal of Happiness Studies 9 (1):13-39.

Watts, Duncan J., and Peter Sheridan Dodds. 2007. "Influentials, Networks, and Public Opinion Formation."  Journal of Consumer Research 34 (4):441-458.