Environmental Tipping Points

July 2015

Encouraging Good Condo Behaviour

A primary goal of condo boards and management is to encourage good behaviour in their community.

We want people living in our community to enjoy life, to be enthusiastic about where they live and to recognize their role in maintaining the community. We do not want people to discard trash wherever they desire, be disruptive to others or to cause damage. Condo rules exist in part to prevent actions which are undesirable to the community.

But what can be done to encourage people to act in a positive way?

Research offers two methods utilized by large organizations that can help condo communities.

Environmental Tipping Point

An Environmental Tipping Point describes the point where things or actions change. It is a threshold where undesirable actions can be converted to desirable actions. It is identifying minor things we can change that can have dramatic effects on how people behave to encourage good behaviour.

There is a wealth of research showing that identifying environmental tipping points and affecting them is an effective way to promote good behaviour.

Toronto is a cleaner city and with less crime than most. It is not coincidental that the City cleans streets and does not allow graffiti to proliferate. It is also not coincidental that police are respected and have a good relationship with the public. These are the result of environmental tipping points that the City has chosen to leverage.

When someone sees trash on the street they eventually consider the practice to be acceptable. When trash is not visible, discarding trash is less acceptable and people are less likely to do so. So the City cleans the streets and provides trash receptacles.

Environmental Tipping Points can effectively be used in condo communities where a building’s residents are expected to get along. The goal is to identify and change the signals that encourage inappropriate behaviour through skillful use of group power. It relies on the fact that most people are susceptible to peer pressure and social norms.

  • Allowing cigarette butts to be visible on the ground near doorways is a sign that smoking and discarding butts on the ground is acceptable. Clean up the area and post signs to inform that this practice is unacceptable. Ask residents to inform management when problems arise.
  • Trash laying on the ground, open trash receptacles, unwanted items sitting in open areas for days and the smell of garbage are all signs that a clean living environment is not a priority. A proactive approach to cleanliness increases the desirability and value of a property. It can also save money for the condo corporation by discouraging actions that increase cleaning and maintenance costs.
  • A Party Room, lounge and activities rooms that are unclean, poorly lit or have furniture strewn about are not inviting places for people to congregate. Maintaining such areas in a clean and ready state invites residents to congregate and socialize.

The Magic Number 7 – Limits of Working Memory

There is a limit on our capacity to process information.

Everyone has a limit on the amount of information they can remember. This is called working memory and the limit for most people is about seven. This seems to be a physical limitation and is the reason why telephone numbers are seven digits. When telephones came to be in use, telephone companies wanted the largest possible number of digits for as large a capacity as possible while still being easy for people to remember. Any larger than seven digits was considered beyond the capacity of most people to remember and would have resulted in many more wrong numbers being dialed.

Condo Rules of 30-70 pages are too much for most to remember. Instead of expecting people to remember things they cannot remember, it makes more sense to post the most important rules in the areas of most impact. If access doors are closed at certain times, post a notice at these doors.

Recycling and organics collection in condos is one area where The Magic Number 7 could be helpful. There are too many items and categories about what goes into recycling and organics collection bins for the normal person to remember. While this information may be available on web sites and material distributed by the city, or periodic postings in the building, such materials are generally inaccessible at the time this information is needed. For people to properly dispose of recycling and organic materials, details about what goes where should be available at the point of disposal. Multiple disposal points, while convenient for some, is unlikely to facilitate proper disposal of recycling and organics.