Nudging pro-environmental behavior: evidence and opportunities

12 Jun 2018

Human actions are responsible for many of our greatest environmental challenges. Studies from the human behavioral sciences show that minor features of decision settings can have major effects on people’s choices. While such behavioral insights have positively influenced individual health and financial decisions, less is known about whether and how these insights can encourage choices that are better for the environment. We review 160 experimental interventions that attempt to alter behavior in six domains where decisions have large environmental impacts: family planning, land management, meat consumption, transportation choices, waste production, and water use. Claims that social influence (norms) and simple adjustments to automatic settings (defaults) can influence pro-environmental decisions are supported by the evidence. Yet for other interventions, knowledge gaps preclude clear conclusions and policy applications. To address these gaps, we identify four opportunities for future research and encourage collaboration between scholars and practitioners to embed tests of behavioral interventions within environmental programs.