Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 53–95 | Cite as

Sustainability policy as if people mattered: developing a framework for environmentally significant behavioral change

  • Chad M. BaumEmail author
  • Christian Gross


International climate accords like the Paris agreement set the broad agenda for climate action. To realize their potential however, it is vital to ‘get the context right’ so that environmentally significant behaviors can be repeated over time. This paper reviews the extant interdisciplinary literature to outline how a richer understanding of the interrelationships between individual and contextual factors is required to cultivate behavioral change. In this manner, 18 distinct behavioral determinants are identified. We argue that the likelihood of behavioral change and overall environmental impact are thereby reliant on the complex interaction between individual behavior and the multiple distinct layers of context that frame its expression. Our behavior-informed approach thus helps to explain processes of behavioral change more fully, establish the types of obstacles that exist, and delineate a fuller and more substantial role for individual-driven behavioral change that is able to build on the initial impetus of global-level frameworks.


Sustainability policy Individual behavior Rebound effects Behavioral spillovers Contextual determinants 

JEL Classification

A12 O33 P28 P36 Q01 Q58 



We would like to thank Lucy O’Shea and Paolo Zeppini for helpful comments. In addition, we are very grateful for the detailed and insightful comments from three anonymous reviewers. Christian Gross acknowledges funding from the 7th Framework Programme of Research and Innovation, (Area: Environment) of the European Commission—Period 2011–2013, within the project “Green Lifestyles, Alternative Models, and Upscaling Regional Sustainability” (GLAMURS). Participants: University of A Coruña (coordinator), University of Bath, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Delft University of Technology, Otto von Guericke Universität, University of Roma Tre, The James Hutton Institute, University of Tilburg, West University of Timişoara, Sustainable Europe Research Institute (Grant Agreement No 265155). Chad M. Baum is grateful for support provided by the Federal Programme “ProExzellenz” of the Free State of Thuringia. He is also very thankful to James S. Cutsinger for inviting him to consider a different path. Finally, we wish to thank Judith Hillen for her help formatting the document.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Food and Resource EconomicsUniversity of BonnBonnGermany
  2. 2.Secretariat of the Advisory Council for Consumer AffairsFederal Ministry of Justice and Consumer ProtectionBerlinGermany

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