Towards environmentally sustainable human behaviour: targeting non-conscious and conscious processes for effective and acceptable policies.

23 Feb 2018

Meeting climate change targets to limit global warming to 2°C requires rapid and large reductions in demand for products that most contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These include production of bulk materials (e.g. steel and cement), energy supply (e.g. fossil fuels) and animal source foods (particularly ruminants and their products). Effective strategies to meet these targets require transformative changes in supply as well as demand, involving changes in economic, political and legal systems at local, national and international levels, building on evidence from many disciplines. This paper outlines contributions from behavioural science in reducing demand. Grounded in dual-process models of human behaviour (involving non-conscious and conscious processes) this paper considers first why interventions aimed at changing population values towards the environment are usually insufficient or unnecessary for reducing demand although they may be important in increasing public acceptability of policies that could reduce demand. It then outlines two sets of evidence from behavioural science towards effective systems-based strategies, to identify interventions likely to be effective at: (i) reducing demand for products that contribute most to GHG emissions, mainly targeting non-conscious processes and (ii) increasing public acceptability for policy changes to enable these interventions, targeting conscious processes.This article is part of the themed issue 'Material demand reduction'.