New research reveals we're taking sustainability seriously, but we lack knowledge of what our actions are worth

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

New research published today reveals that while 53% of people are trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, there is a lack of understanding about which behavior changes make the biggest impact.

With the main cause of human-induced climate change, it's clear that everyday lifestyle changes must be part of global climate action to reduce harmful emissions.

However, a new survey shows that many people need clearer information on the impact that key behavioral changes have on . While 53% of thought their lifestyle was more sustainable than the average person in the U.K., many significantly under- or over-estimated the difference that their actions make.

The of over 800 participants was conducted by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire and Edinburgh Science. Respondents were asked to estimate, on a scale, how many kilograms of carbon dioxide would be saved by taking a range of actions.

Many of the ratings were hugely inaccurate. In general, people overestimated the effects of less impactful changes, such as unplugging appliances, but underestimated the contribution of larger changes such as following a :

  • unplugging a mobile phone charger saves around 2kg of CO2 emissions per year; yet one third of respondents thought that it saved five times that (100kg or more).
  • leaving a television on standby emits around 15kg of CO2 per year, but a third of respondents estimated that it was far more significant (125 kg or more).
  • becoming a vegetarian can save over 600kg, yet half of the respondents thought that it only saved 300kg or less.

Psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire, who led the study, explained the significance of the findings:

"Every little helps, and people should consider doing whatever they can to cut emissions. However, these results suggest that when it comes to sustainable behavior, there are many widely believed myths. There is a definite appetite to make changes, which is great, but people need to understand how they can make a real impact."

Respondents were also asked to indicate how much they thought they knew about sustainable lifestyles, with 65% believing they know more about the topic than the in the U.K. However, even those that rated their knowledge most highly, made inaccurate estimations.

For example, those rating themselves as highly knowledgeable significantly overestimated the impact of unplugging a phone charger (an average guess of 102kg), not leaving a television on standby (an average guess of 116kg), or even buying a blue jumper rather than a red one (an average guess of 37kg)—which has no impact at all.

"The danger is that many people overestimate the impact of a few well-publicized behavior changes, and fail to engage in more significant and important changes like stopping flying," noted Professor Mike Page, cognitive psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire.

Simon Gage, Director of Edinburgh Science, welcomed the findings as a useful tool in how to approach climate action and education: "We are committed to helping people understand how to tackle , and knowing the impact of certain behaviors is an important step in taking effective action."

The researchers hope that the findings will help organizations and policymakers to support the public in understanding the impact that changes in their behavior can have.

Citation: New research reveals we're taking sustainability seriously, but we lack knowledge of what our actions are worth (2022, April 26) retrieved 31 March 2023 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Explore further

What motivates people to look after their brain health?


Feedback to editors