A More Holistic Approach to Behaviour Change

  • Adam Corner
  • Jamie Clarke


Individual behaviours matter, but many early campaigns on energy and climate change trivialised the challenge by focusing on ‘simple and painless’ behaviours that had very little impact in terms of climate change. The principles of ‘social marketing’ and approaches such as the ‘nudge’ technique have grown in popularity. But while they are well suited to piecemeal behavioural changes, for a complex challenge like climate change, they are the wrong tools for the wrong job. To overcome the problem of ‘rebound effects’ and encourage ‘spillover’ between different behaviours, it is crucial to get beyond individual behaviours and engage at the level of values. The fourth principle is moving from ‘nudge’ to ‘think’ as a strategy for public engagement, promoting a sense of climate citizenship rather than following a prescriptive green lifestyle.


Behaviours Social marketing Nudge Rebound Spillover Climate citizenship 


  1. Austin, A., Cox, J., Barnett, J., & Thomas, C. (2011). Exploring catalyst behaviours: Full Report. A report to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Brook Lyndhurst for Defra, London.Google Scholar
  2. Bolderdijk, J.W., Steg, L., Geller, E.S., Lehman, P.K., & Postmes, T. (2013). Comparing the effectiveness of monetary versus moral motives in environmental campaigning. Nature Climate Change, 3, 413–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brand, C., & Boardman, B. (2008). Taming of the few – the unequal distribution of greenhouse gas emissions from personal travel in the UK. Energy Policy, 36, 224–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brulle, R.J. (2010). From environmental campaigns to advancing the public dialog: Environmental communication to civic engagement. Environmental Communication, 4(1), 82–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Capstick, S., Lorenzoni, I., Corner, A., & Whitmarsh, L. (2015b). Prospects for radical emissions reduction through behavior and lifestyle change. Carbon Management, 5(4), 429-445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chitnis, M., Sorrell, S., Druckman, A., Firth, S.K., & Jackson, R. (2013). Turning light into flights: Estimating direct and indirect rebounds effect for UK households. Energy Policy, 55, 234–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Corner, A., Pidgeon, N., & Parkhill, K. (2012). Perceptions of geoengineering: Public attitudes, stakeholder perspectives, and the challenge of ‘upstream’ engagement. WIREs Climate Change, 3(5), 451–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Corner, A. (2013b). Climate silence (and how to break it). Oxford: Climate Outreach & Information Network.Google Scholar
  9. Crompton, T. (2010). Common cause: The case for working with our cultural values. UK: WWF.Google Scholar
  10. Crompton, T., Kasser, T. (2009). Meeting environmental challenges: The role of human identity. Surrey: WWF UK.Google Scholar
  11. Devine-Wright, P. (2007). Reconsidering public attitudes and public acceptance of renewable energy technologies: A critical review, published by the School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester. Available at Accessed 23 June 2016.
  12. Dietz, T., Gardner, G. T., Gilligan, J., Stern, P. C., Vandenbergh, M. P. (2009a). Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions. Proceedings of National Academy Sciences, 106(44), 18452–18456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dobson, A. (2003). Citizenship and the environment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dobson, A., (2010). Environmental Citizenship and Pro-environmental Behaviour. Rapid Research and Evidence Review. Sustainable Development Research Review: London.Google Scholar
  15. Ebeling, F; Lotz, S. (2015). Domestic uptake of green energy promoted by opt-out tariffs. Nature Climate Change, 5, 868–871.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Evans, L., Gregory, R.M., Corner, A., Hodgetts, J., Ahmed S., & Hahn, U. (2013). Self Interest and pro-environmental behaviour. Nature Climate Change, 3, 122–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hastings, G. (2007). Social marketing: Why should the devil have all the best tunes? Oxford: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  18. Henwood, K., Pidgeon, N., Groves, C., Shirani, F., Butler, C., & Parkhill, K. (2015) Energy Biographies Research Report. Available at Accessed 19 May 2016.
  19. Hobson, K., & Niemeyer, S. (2012). “What sceptics believe”: The effects of information and deliberation on climate change scepticism. Public Understanding of Science, 22(4), 396–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hogg, M., & Shah, H. (2010). The impact of global learning on public attitudes and behaviours towards international development and sustainability. London: Development Education Association.Google Scholar
  21. Hoppner, C., Whitmarsh, L. (2010). Public and policy expectations regarding public engagement in climate change action. In Whitmarsh, L., O’Neill, S., & Lorenzoni, I. (Eds.), Engaging the public with climate change: Behaviour change and communication. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  22. Howell, R. A. (2014). Promoting lower-carbon lifestyles: The role of personal values, climate change communications and carbon allowances in processes of change. Environmental Education Research, 20(3), 434–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Involve (2010) Nudge, think or shove? Shifting values and attitudes towards sustainability: A briefing for sustainable development practitioners, November 2010, Available at. Accessed 23 June 2016.
  24. Kurz, T., Gardner, B., Verplanken, B., & Abraham, C. (2014). Habitual behaviors or patterns of practice? Explaining and changing repetitive climate-relevant actions. WIREs Clim Change, 6(1), 113–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Land Use Consultants (2011). Climate change conversations. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 492.Google Scholar
  26. Lazer, W., Kelley, E.J. Eds. (1973). Social marketing: Perspectives and viewpoints. Ontario: Irwin-Dorsey.Google Scholar
  27. Ockwell, D., Whitmarsh, L., & O’Neil, S. (2009). Reorienting climate change communication for effective mitigation: forcing people to be green or fostering grassroots engagement? Science Communication, 30, 305–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. P. John, & G. Stoker, (2010) How experiments can help get Britain to the Big Society. Available at Accessed 30 May 2016.
  29. Parkhill, K.A., Demski, C., Butler, C., Spence, A., & Pidgeon, N. (2013). Transforming the UK energy system: Public values, attitudes and acceptability: synthesis report. London: UKERC.Google Scholar
  30. Peattie, K., & Peattie, S. (2009). Social marketing: A pathway to consumption reduction? Journal of Business Research, 62(2), 260–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pidgeon, N., Demski, C., Butler, C., Parkhill, K., & Spence, A. (2014). Creating a national citizen engagement process for energy policy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(Supplement_4), 13606–13613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rowson, J. (2013). A new agenda on climate change: Facing up to stealth denial and winding down on fossil fuels. London: Royal Society of Arts.Google Scholar
  33. Rowson, J., & Corner, A. (2015) The seven dimensions of climate change: Introducing a new way to think, talk and act, Available at Accessed 19 May 2016.
  34. Spurling N, McMeekin A, Shove E, Southerton D, & Welch D. (2013). Interventions in practice: re-framing policy approaches to consumer behaviour. Sustainable Practices Research Group.Google Scholar
  35. Sunstein, C. R. and Thaler, R. H. (2009). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  36. Thaler, R. (2015). Misbehaving: The making of behavioural economics. Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  37. Thøgersen, J., & Crompton, T. (2009). Simple and painless? The limitations of spillover in environmental campaigning. Journal of Consumer Policy, 32(2), 141-163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Thøgersen, J. & Noblet, C.L. (2012). Does Green Consumerism Increase the Acceptance of Wind Power? Energy Policy, 51, 854-862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Thomas, G.O., Poortinga, W. & Sautkina, E. (2016). The Welsh Single-Use Carrier Bag Charge and behavioural spillover. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 47, 126-135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tiefenbeck, V., Staake, T., Roth, K., & Sachs, O. (2013). For better or for worse? Empirical evidence of moral licensing in a behavioral energy conservation campaign. Energy Policy, 57, 160-171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Verplanken, B., Walker, I., Davis, A., & Jurasek, M. (2008). Context change and travel mode choice: Combining the habit discontinuity and self-activation hypotheses. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28, 121–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Whitmarsh, L. E., O’Neill, S., Lorenzoni, I. (2011). Engaging the public with climate change. Abingdon: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  43. Whitmarsh, L. E., & O’Neill, S. (2010). Green identity, green living? The role of pro-environmental self-identity in determining consistency across diverse pro-environmental behaviours. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(3), 305–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wiebe, G.D. (1952). Merchandising commodities and citizenship on television. Public Opinion Quarterly 15, 679–691. Wiebe, G.D., 1952. Merchandising commodities and citizenship on television. Public Opinion Quarterly, 15, 679–691.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wolf, J., Brown, K., Conway, D. (2009). Ecological citizenship and climate change: Perceptions and practice. Environmental Politics, 18(4), 503–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adam Corner
    • 1
  • Jamie Clarke
    • 2
  1. 1.Climate OutreachOxfordUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.Climate OutreachOxfordUnited Kingdom

Personalised recommendations