Claire Maloney: How can we inspire sustainable behavioural change?

Claire Maloney: How can we inspire sustainable behavioural change?

Claire Maloney: How can we inspire sustainable behavioural change?

Claire Maloney: How can we inspire sustainable behavioural change?

Acknowledgement of Country: This interview was conducted on Gadigal Country. We pay our respects to the traditional custodians of this land, past, present and emerging. We recognise their deep connection to the land and their unique cultural heritage, which continues to enrich our shared community.

Claire Maloney is the founder and director of The Bravery, a PR, communications and social media agency dedicated to creating change for good. Over the last decade, The Bravery has helped many purpose-driven companies and organisations to bring about positive social and environmental change.

In this interview, Claire delves into the art of storytelling and how it can be harnessed to inspire meaningful and sustainable behavior change. 

What are the key elements of inspiring behavioural change?

Asking questions and gathering insights about your audience are key. At The Bravery, our first step on any project is always diving deep into what people actually think about an issue or product. We want to know what barriers exist, and what questions and concerns people have. 

There are many ways to gather these insights. In the high-end marketing world, you can do large-scale research studies. In the sustainability sector, where budgets can be tighter, social media comment threads are invaluable. You can learn so much about how people feel and what concerns you might need to address.

For example, when we were working with a client in the e-waste recycling sector, we noticed criticism on social media about the precious metals in old phones and laptops. People were worried that recyclers were making money from the resources being collected, without compensating donors. From this nugget of information (pardon the pun!), we tailored our messaging and showed the recycling process to address those concerns. 

I see criticism as curiosity. If someone's interested enough to ask questions and think critically, that's a gift. It's an opportunity to engage, not a reason to be disheartened.

When we do engage, empathy is critical. We need to remember that everyone is at a different stage in their journey. Every opinion is worth understanding, even if it doesn't match yours. Have your own opinion, but also be curious about what it’s like in others’ shoes. Seeking out different perspectives will make you more creative and strategic when it comes to addressing the barriers and challenges people face. 

Are people willing to make change for good? 

We asked this question during the pandemic, when we saw a surge in single-use items. Some of these items were essential, for health and safety reasons. But then when we were finally allowed out of the house, cafes wouldn’t take reusable coffee cups anymore. This made us question whether we were about to undo a lot of recent progress and create another mountain of waste.

To address our concerns, we collaborated with Ben Peacock from Republic of Everyone on a project called The Power & The Passion [link].

Surprisingly, even in the midst of the pandemic, the survey showed climate change was Australians’ number one concern. People were stressed about environmental issues, including waste, pollution, air quality and biodiversity loss. 

There is willingness to change, even in a time of significant disruption. The survey found that four in five Australians thought businesses should be doing more. All this evidence gives us a starting point to talk about making those changes. 

What are the biggest barriers to change? How can we address them? 

The two biggest barriers are time and money. 

Australians work some of the longest hours in the world. So, we need to think about the time commitments we ask people to make, and acknowledge the potential costs.

I recently met a time management expert called Kate Christie. She highlights four different time management costs: financial, opportunity, emotional and physical costs. These are all crucial for sustainable businesses to tackle. 

The second major barrier is cost. Traditional products and services are designed to be as cost-effective as possible. So often this cost-effectiveness comes at the detriment of everything else. Many sustainable models are more expensive, meaning fewer people have access to them. 

If we want large-scale behavioural change, we need to address these time and financial challenges head on. We need to make sustainable options accessible to as many people as possible, to really drive meaningful change. 

True disruptive innovation involves new businesses offering cheaper products and services at the fringes. Capitalist structures really do make that difficult. But addressing these barriers means we can engage a much broader audience in much more exciting ways. 

What responsibilities do businesses have when it comes to communicating about sustainability? 

There’s a great quote: Green washing is when your talk gets further along than your walk. Businesses need to be really mindful of this. 

At the point of sale, you might only have space for 10 or 20 words. Use them wisely: make your claims interesting and exciting, but also ironclad. Consumers shouldn’t need a master’s degree in sustainability to interpret them! 

Regulation of environmental claims is also really important. We need a common framework that we can all understand. But at the same time, we don’t want to make the brands doing great work too scared to talk about what they’re doing. 

Change takes time, and no one is perfect. There’s value in acknowledging progress as well as the areas that still need work. This honesty can resonate with consumers and inspire confidence in a brand's commitment to sustainability.

As a consumer and communicator, I want to support the activists and organisations who’re solving the biggest issues for people. The Bravery’s mission is to encourage more dialogue, empathy and collaboration across the sector. 

How can we tell stories to inspire positive change? 

At The Bravery we use a powerful framework called ‘me, we and us’ to guide our storytelling. 

First, we look for the ‘me’ in a story. This is where we emotionally connect with the individual. For example, if we're discussing home care products, we might highlight how using sustainable products can save money or improve your health. 

Then we delve into the ‘we’ element. This is about impacts at the community level, like the benefits we can all enjoy when everyone in a suburb or neighbourhood adopts sustainable practices. 

Finally, we move to the level of ‘us.’ Here we consider impacts at a global scale. This is where we might talk directly about tackling climate change. 

It’s tempting to jump straight to the third level and forget to think about the individual. But if we go back and look for those personal, emotional motivations for action, we can find so many more interesting and inspiring stories to tell. 

For some people, fear will be inspiring, but it can discourage others. Striking the right balance is essential. You can use social media to test out different messages and gauge people’s responses. 

A good story is told in measured ways. It connects with the individual (me), considers their social context (we), and highlights the broader impact (us). Most of all, it’s real and authentic stories that will inspire effective and sustainable behavior change. 

Learn more


This interview is part of ReCo Circular Sydney 2023 Series, supported by the City of Sydney Knowledge Exchange Sponsorship program. Explore more free content at:


Interviewed by Danling Xiao. Edited by Lucy Campbell.

Lucy Campbell is a writer and editor with a long-standing interest in and commitment to science and sustainability. Solicitude and solastalgia motivate her to preserve precious resources and promote positive change. Connect with Lucy on Linkedin.

Danling Xiao is the co-founder of ReCo Digital. Danling has an unwavering passion for creativity, spirituality and the pursuit of positive change in the world. Connect with Danling on Linkedin.  

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