- A year-long study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that people's beliefs about climate change and sustainability are not reflected in their self-reported behaviors of four tested topics: recycling, using public transportation, purchasing environmentally friendly products and using reusable shopping bags.
- Researchers divided respondents into three climate change belief categories: skeptic, cautiously worried and highly concerned. Cautiously worried participants reported lower rates of recycling, but skeptics and highly concerned participants were about the same. With all the other behaviors, skeptics reported higher frequency of sustainable behaviors compared with the cautiously worried and highly concerned groups.
- The study examined more than 400 adults from July 2014 to July 2015, and the authors noted that there were too many possible reasons for the belief-behavior disparity to draw any conclusions about causality from this study.
Quite a few studies' results indicate disconnect between how humans think and how they act, specifically on environmental issues like recycling. These topics can evoke strong perceptions of what supporters are like, forcing people to examine whether they want to identify with the image. For example, a study found men litter more and recycle less to protect their masculinity, as they perceive environmental consciousness as feminine.
Another study highlighting disparate thinking and behavior found that consumers know food waste is bad for the environment and 77% feel badly about it, but 53% of respondents aren't willing to change their behaviors.
Changing human perceptions is difficult, but as some marketing professionals can attest, successful perception changes can lead to behavior changes. Some may argue the fields of sustainability and recycling could use a makeover to advance the public past the stale stereotype that environmentally-friendly topics apply mostly to women and hippies. Further work could get more consumers to actually follow through on living more sustainable lifestyles.
However, this study's findings present tricky territory because it suggests attitudes don't necessarily need to change for climate change skeptics who are already engaged in individual sustainable behaviors. Instead, the study asserts, those concerned about climate change who engage less in sustainable behaviors could use a recalibration to inspire them to take action.