Pro-environmental habits: An underexplored research agenda in sustainability science

Summary

Habits are the fundamental basis for many of our daily actions and can be powerful barriers to behavioural change. Still, habits are not included in most narratives, theories, and interventions applied to sustainable behaviour. 

One reason societies struggle to reach policy goals and people fail to change towards more pro-environmental lifestyles might be that many behaviours are now bound by strong habits that override knowledge and intentions to act. In this perspective article, we provide three arguments for why pro-environmental habits are a needed research agenda in sustainability science:

(1) habit theory highlights how behaviour is heavily reliant on automatic processes

(2) the environmental context sets boundary conditions for behaviour, shape habits, and cues action responses

(3) our habits and past behaviour shape our values and self-identity. These arguments highlight the transformative potential of looking at sustainable behaviours through a habit lens. We believe a research agenda on pro-environmental habits could generate a more holistic understanding of sustainable behaviours and complement today’s dominating approaches which emphasize reasoned decisions and intrinsic motivations such as values, norms, and intentions to understand and predict pro-environmental behaviour.

We highlight evident knowledge gaps and practical benefits of considering habit theory to promote pro-environmental behaviours, and how habit architecture could be utilized as a strong leverage point when designing, modifying, and building urban environments.

Information

Link to centre authors: Barthel, Stephan
Publication info: Linder, N., Giusti, M., Samuelsson, K., Barthel, S.. 2021. Pro-environmental habits: An underexplored research agenda in sustainability science. Ambio. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13280-021-01619-6

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