Reducing Greenhouse Emissions: What influences behavior change?
As the effects of climate change become more apparent, more and more people are working at reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. In tandem, psychologists and social scientists are investigating what motivates individuals to decisively change their behavior for the greater good. These actions can range from small lifestyle changes like reducing water usage to larger decisions like buying an electric car. But what leads people to make these greener decisions?
One of the biggest motivators is a desire to protect the environment. People are becoming more aware of the impact that human activity has on the planet. With this, many feel a sense of responsibility to take action to reduce their own environmental impact. This can include making choices that reduce their carbon footprint, like choosing to bike instead of drive. This may also take the form of choosing to buy products that are made from sustainable materials.
The Pew Research Center on Climate Change found that people will make greener decisions if the following conditions are met:
- If they believe climate change is real/have a high level of trust in scientific experts
- If they have a personal sense of responsibility for protecting the environment or rather, a belief in the importance of environmental protection
- If they believe their actions can make a difference
- If they are optimistic about the future of our planet
So, not only is being greener a matter of caring for the environment but it is also one’s perception of change-making. This includes the perceived extent to which their actions matter. Other surveys indicate that attitudes on the topic differ immensely based on generation. Younger generations express more interest in addressing climate changes compared to Gen X and Baby Boomers.
Another motivator is the financial benefits of making greener choices. For example, buying an electric car can save drivers money in the long run due to lower fuel costs and reduced maintenance costs. Similarly, installing solar panels on a home can reduce energy bills and provide a financial return on the investment.
This importance of this aspect of decision-making is supported by the 2022 Green Gauge Report. In this report inflation came in at no. 1 among a range of top societal concerns amongst 12 different consumer markets. The report’s White Paper illustrates how sustainability trends are not immune to the cost-of-living crisis. The report documented a decline in a group of consumers they classify as ‘eco-actives’. This was something of an anomaly. In years past sustainability was the fastest growing trend against all other societal concerns.
One of the main conclusions of their 2022 study is that people will make greener decisions if they believe the benefit of the decision outweighs the cost. This means that higher upfront costs for the promise of future lower energy costs is something that must be carefully communicated to consumers. Such is the case when talking about the decision to purchase an EV or to install solar panels.
This cost/benefit analysis for decision-makers does not always have to do with money, but rather personal value. For some, they may weigh the upfront financial cost against the perceived benefits of helping in the fight against climate change.
Social pressure can also be a motivator for making greener decisions. As more people adopt greener lifestyles, it becomes more socially acceptable to do so. And less social acceptable not to.
Some environmental activists warn against shaming and blaming as a tactic to promote greater participation in the movement. There is fear that this approach encourages an ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality where one may choose not to get involved out of fear of upholding endless environmental practices and being labelled contradictory.
Additionally, social media has made it easier for people to share information and ideas about sustainable living, which can inspire others to make similar choices. This is particularly true among green influencers on TikTok and Instagram, many of whom promote idealized zero-waste or ‘slow-living’ lifestyles.
Deloitte’s work on sustainability and climate found that not only are people more likely to make greener decisions if they feel that their actions are making a meaningful impact, but even more so if they are rewarded for their efforts through recognition. Rewards may also take the form of rebates or discounts, underscoring the importance of financials to greener decision-making.
Greener Decisions: why do people choose electric cars over gas cars?
The decision to buy an EV over a classic internal combustion engine vehicle illustrates each of the aspects of decision-making outlined above.
One of the main reasons is environmental concerns. Electric cars produce zero in-use emissions, making them a much cleaner alternative to gas-powered vehicles. As more people become aware of the impact of air pollution on human health and the environment, they are motivated to choose vehicles that produce less pollution.
Another reason people choose electric cars is for the financial benefits. Though they require a higher entry-level costs, electric cars are cheaper to operate than gas-powered cars, with lower fuel costs and seemingly reduced maintenance costs. Additionally, many governments offer tax incentives and rebates for people who purchase electric cars, making them more affordable.
Since buying a car is a long-term commitment, folks tend to factor in their future to this decision. The future is EVs and it seems the world is beginning to come to terms with this. In fact, high-end luxury car brands, namely Tesla, have made EVs a status symbol in themselves. For any significant technological advancement it has been the case that it is first adopted by the most wealthy members of society. As production becomes more efficient, prices drop and the trend trickles down.
Despite the lingering financial problems from the COVID-19 pandemic and the related sky-high levels of inflation, it is virtually certain that we will see an increase in greener decision-making among a wider set of the population, including an increase in electric vehicle ownership.