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2021 podcast series: Behaviour change

Toni Vernelli from the Veganuary campaign shares her insights into how behaviour change works.

FlightFree UK
26 Apr 2021 5 min read

This is episode four of our 2021 podcast series. Listen to the episode here and find other episodes and previous series here.

Image says, The Flight Free Podcast. Behaviour change with Toni Vernelli

This month we’re speaking to Toni Vernelli from Veganuary about behaviour change. Toni is Head of Communications and Marketing at Veganuary and has loads of insights into how we can encourage people to change their behaviour.

Rachel

Flight Free UK and Veganuary both ask people to make a change in their lifestyle for a set period of time. For Veganuary it is not eating or using animal products for a month, and for Flight Free UK it is taking a year off flying. It’s about trying something new or challenging yourself to do something, with the aim of feeding into longer term behaviour change.

Kirsty

Can you tell us a bit about the history of Veganuary?

Toni

It was set up by husband and wife team Jane Land and Matthew Glover. They had worked with other campaign groups that encouraged people to go vegan, but they realised human behaviour works differently, and that people are more likely to change in stages rather than suddenly going completely vegan. So they modelled Veganuary on other month-long challenges such as Movember. When they started in 2014, the aim was to get 1000 people to sign up, but 3000 people signed up! So right from the start it seemed to be something that people wanted to get behind.

"They realised human behaviour works differently. People are more likely to change in stages rather than suddenly."

Rachel

How many people signed up last year, in 2021?

Toni

We had 582,000 people sign up from around the world. We know from research that about 10 times more people do it without getting in touch with us.

Kirsty

Would you say that taking the challenge changes people’s long-term behaviour? Do they stay vegan?

Toni

In our post pledge survey, just over 40% have said they intend to stay vegan. Of the remainder, 60% of people say they intend to reduce their meat and animal product consumption by 50%. We also often hear from people saying they did it last year, and they do it again year after year.

Rachel

Why do you think the format of taking a month off something, like with Dry January and Stoptober, is particularly effective?

Toni

There is data to suggest that a month is a good length of time for people to change their habits, and it’s a clean chunk of time so it appeals to us as humans. With food, given that you eat three times a day, a month is quite a commitment, but obviously with flying it makes sense to do it for a year.

Kirsty

Do you have any stories of people who have taken the challenge and are what you might call success stories?

Toni

Many of our ambassadors did the pledge in the first place then became vegan. A few that really stand out are Sara Pascoe, Jasmin Harman, Peter Eagan and Chris Packham. Chris Packham had been vegetarian for a really long time and thought that going vegan would be too difficult. Every day he did a short video exploring a different aspect of veganism, and then he stuck to it. With Jasmin Harman, she used the one month angle to convince her husband. She had been vegetarian for a while and even had a cheese-themed wedding! But after a month she said she felt so good, and she is such a healthy happy person that she is a great advocate.

Rachel

It’s similar to the Flight Free pledge: people see flying as a part of their personality so they are reluctant to give it up, like Jasmin Harman with her cheese, but once you have taken on the challenge, you really enjoy it and you start to see things differently. With Veganuary it is being forced to eat differently, and with Flight Free UK it’s being forced to travel differently.

"Once you have taken on the challenge, you really enjoy it and you start to see things differently."

We focus a lot on educating people about the benefits of being flight free. Do you do the same with the Veganuary campaign?

Toni

Yes, education is a big part of it. Pledgers get 31 days of emails while taking part and they get recipes and functional stuff but they get a lot of educational material as well. People sign up for different reasons – animals, environment or health – and while we tailor the content according to their preferences, we include a bit of everything for each person. At the end of the month we ask people what they found most useful or surprising and we often get people talking about how they learned something new from the content we sent. So the education aspect is definitely behind people’s motivations to stay vegan.

"People sign up for different reasons. The education aspect is definitely behind people's motivations to stay vegan."

Rachel

We also find that there are different motivations for people trying a flight free year. Reducing their carbon footprint is a factor but there are also other things such as air pollution and noise pollution, especially if you live near an airport. Also there is the injustice of flying: those that are least responsible for causing the climate crisis are the ones who are most likely to suffer because of it.

Kirsty

What’s been the most effective tactic in convincing people to try vegan?

Toni

When the pandemic hit last year, we changed our marketing to be more about how people now have lots of time to cook, so we shared recipes and things. As the campaign progressed more people began to engage with the environmental issue. We also did a budget meal plan because we knew that this year people would be struggling financially. Veganism has this myth of being a middle class privilege and so we devised a meal plan to show just how inexpensive a vegan diet can be.

Rachel

At Flight Free UK we have three different pledges: not to fly for a year, not to fly for leisure for a year or not to fly again ever. Has Veganuary also got different levels of pledge?

Toni

No, but that’s a good idea. We have wondered if we can run a second campaign in the summertime so we can keep people engaged. Do you get many people taking the lifelong pledge?

Rachel

72% of people sign up for the year, 5% sign up for no leisure flights and 23% people sign up for life. Many of the people who choose a flight free year are repeat pledgers; signing up for life is too much of a commitment but it feels much more manageable signing up for a year at a time.

Time for our Destination of the Month recommendation!

This month it’s river walks. Toni, do you have a favourite river walk?

Toni

I used to live in Taunton and I really enjoyed walking along the river Tone.

Kirsty

I used to live in Sheffield which is where I discovered the joy of wild garlic which is such a versatile cooking ingredient. There is a river running through Meersbrook Park and that’s where we went to harvest wild garlic.

Rachel

My choice is the Conham River Nature Reserve in Bristol. This is along the Avon and it is unbelievably beautiful. In the summer people are swimming and there’s woodland and you can walk along the path all the way to Bath.

Our podcast recommendation of the month is Ramblings with Clare Balding.

Final thanks to Toni for sharing her insights with us. You can find more about Veganuary at their website.

Listen to the full episode here and find other episodes and previous series here.

Voiceover: L. Sophie Helbig. Soundtrack: Chasing Balloons by Yeti Music.

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