Carrot or stick? Environmental economist Haben Tekie studies how people can be induced to do the right thing without impinging overly on our lifestyles.
Perhaps mapping, evaluating and analysing instruments of control doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun? As far as Haben Tekie is concerned, its one of the most exiting fields in which to work.
“I worked on a government commission that looked into the issue of why such a small percentage of clothing and other textiles are recycled. Each year, we throw away of 15 kilos per person, while only three kilos are recycled. This is an enormous waste. When we compared this with other sectors, it became apparent that there is no responsibility on the part of manufacturers!”
Unlike glass and plastics, textile manufacturers have no responsibility to accept goods once they have served their purpose. This immediately aroused Haben Tekie’s interest in policy issues and instruments. What can be done to steer the behaviour of individuals, companies and organisations? If information is insufficient in itself, can we use instruments of control to promote innovation and thus develop new and smarter concepts to encourage the necessary shift in how we live? And if so, what would be the most effective instrument? Might the imposition of a tax, for example, be perceived as a penalty on those using the goods or services, or could the introduction of a reward in the form of tax relief or some other carrot induce people to do the right thing?
Haben Tekie and his research group are currently working on a range of issues; on behalf of Vinnova, they are studying ways to facilitate the recycling of furniture in public-sector organisations and what financial or environmental profits stand to be made.
Another area of research is the increased use of secondary raw materials in more closed loops, for example in vehicles, batteries and building and demolition materials.
“On this issue, we are asking ourselves what common motivations and obstacles exist that could be emphasised in order to make this easier and to boost materials recycling,” he says.
Haben Tekie is also participating in a research project commissioned by the City of Gothenburg to study ways to bring more life to the ground floors of buildings; how can we demonstrate the value of vibrant social or cultural activities at street level?
Although Haben Tekie was an accomplished footballer throughout his youth, playing in midfield for Gothenburg clubs Örgryte and GAIS, he was also a keen student. Having chosen the science programme at upper secondary school, he quickly gravitated to the then nascent field of environmental studies. He continued along this path at the University of Gothenburg School of Business, Economics and Law, where he enrolled in the environmental social science programme, specialising in environmental economics and graduating with an MSc.
Haben joined RISE in 2018 and is a member of research group of 10 researchers from fields including social sciences, behavioural science, law, political science and economics.
“Of course, changing policies and behaviour can be a slow process but things are still happening. Our resources are finite. I hope that I can contribute to transition; I want to believe that we can change and I see RISE and my own research group as key players,” says Haben Tekie.