Human behavior is responsible for many of our greatest environmental challenges. The accumulated effects of many individual and household decisions have major negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem health. Human behavioral science blends psychology and economics to understand how people respond to the context in which they make decisions (eg who presents the information and how it is framed). Behavioral insights have informed new strategies to improve personal health and financial choices. However, 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 in which decisions have major environmental impacts: family planning, land management, meat consumption, transportation choices, waste production, and water use. The evidence suggests that social influence and simple adjustments to decision settings can influence pro-environmental decisions. We identify four important gaps in the evidence that provide opportunities for future research. To address these gaps, we encourage collaborations between researchers and practitioners that look at the effects of embedding tests of behavior-change interventions within environmental programs.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank S Flint and D Fredman for helpful comments and contributions, which greatly improved this manuscript; the Gund Institute for Environment for their Collaboration Grant to BF, which made this work possible; and the University of Vermont’s James Marsh Professor-at-Large and Burack Distinguished Lecture Series for supporting SP and AB, respectively.
© The Ecological Society of America