How to reduce individual environmental impact?
A literature review into the effects and behavioral change potential of carbon footprint calculators
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Many of our daily activities – such as using electricity, driving a car, or buying and disposing of products – cause greenhouse gas emissions. Together these emissions make up an individual’s carbon footprint. Our current Dutch average personal carbon footprint is too high. In order to reach the Paris Agreement climate goals we have to lower our personal carbon emissions by around three-quarters within the next ten years. This kind of reduction will have a huge impact on personal lifestyles and asks for drastic changes in our society. Different kinds of changes in our behavior and lifestyle are needed: changes in consumption behavior (such as avoiding airplane travel) as well as changes in collective behavior (such as becoming active in a local energy community or environmental organization).
To reduce carbon footprints people need to, amongst other things, be informed and engaged, for example by means of a carbon footprint calculator. Carbon footprint calculators are designed to estimate one’s personal carbon footprint and provide users with personalized feedback on how they score and how they can improve. It is assumed that this tailored information will lead to a change in consumption, and at first sight carbon footprint calculators indeed seem to have the potential to change behavior. But we wanted to know whether or not this actually is the case. In this report we therefore investigate what is known from previous studies about the effect of carbon footprint calculators on awareness and behavior (research question 1). Since we expect that the more elaborate work field of health psychology could provide us with insights on effective interventions, we look at the field of health psychology and health related interventions to find ways how to improve footprint calculators to become more effective in changing behavior (research question 2).