Agonizing over the environmental impact of your travel, food and shopping choices when it seems like others care less about climate change can be frustrating and demotivating.

But research from our colleague associate professor Thijs Bouman, among others, finds many more people are motivated to be good stewards of the environment than we think. The issue isn’t actually a lack of motivation: it’s a lack of action.

In a 2021 review paper, we identified that most people are motivated to take climate action, but other factors may hold them back. People may not act because taking care of the environment is not the only value they hold. This is called value conflicts. For instance, a person who deeply cares about the environment may decide to travel by plane instead of taking a train because the train may be much more expensive or take way longer, which are also things that person likely cares about. Moreover, people quite often act without thinking about consequences for the environment, especially when it’s a habit.

To play into people’s intrinsic motivation to be environmentally friendly, it’s important not only to ensure they know about sustainable alternatives and take the into consideration, but that they also understand where to find those alternatives and how to implement them.

Many people are genuinely motivated to take care of the environment, but they need to be made aware of how much others care and be empowered with information about actions they can actually take.

Environmental values and identities at the personal and group level
December 2021
Current Opinion in Behavioural Sciences
Thijs Bouman, Ellen van der Werff, Goda Perlaviciute and Linda Steg