A Nudge in the Right Direction

A Nudge in the Right Direction

The biggest threat to climate change is INACTION

A massive congratulations to a young team of sailors from Galway for their fantastic success at the BT Young Scientist Awards. Riain Kennedy, Reuben Florisson and Andrew Gordon are from Galway City Sailing Club and see first hand the impact plastics have on the environment they sail in, so they decided to see if they could make a difference.

They won the prestigious Williams Lea Special Award for communication and first prize in the Social and Behavioural Sciences junior category, as well as an award for their display.

Their project on recycling used what is known as " The Nudge Theory" to promote environmental awareness in their school.

Nudge Theory, for which Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize in 2017, is a powerful behavioural theory based on gentle encouragements. A nudge “alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives” [Thaler and Sunstein 2008]. ​

They can clearly see that changing long-standing behaviour is going to be critical in saving our planet, so wanted to come up with an idea to change habits within their school and make a change to the ENVIRON-MENTALITY of students AND teachers.

To make it fun they thought of GAMIFICATION and developed the BOTTLE SHOT - a free throw basketball based challenge which invites students to shoot their recyclable bottles into a recycling collection point. The goal was to create a fun, interactive and competitive challenge, with quantifiable results to determine whether this nudge has a measurable impact.

And for the teachers ... they clearly saw that coffee was a big consumable, so they created a voting system involving recyclable disposable coffee cups - the COFFEE CUP CHALLENGE.

With baseline stats before the challenges, they could then determine any changes in habits after the NUDGE.


  • BOTTLESHOT increased the level of plastic bottle recycling by a staggering 1,248%.
  • COFFEE CUP CHALLENGE increased the level of coffee cup recycling by an impressive 472%.
  • KNOWLEDGE SURVEY delivered a collective student and teacher improvement of 28.2%. 

CONCLUSION: Innovative nudges DO impact positively on recycling and CAN promote correct recycling.