‘Habit, hassle and fear of the unknown pose barriers to sustainable behaviours’

That’s according to Gerdien de Vries, Director of TU Delft Energy Transition Lab who spoke to FNZ about the psychological barriers of green behaviours

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Habit, hassle and fear of the unknown could pose barriers to individuals or businesses that want to adopt more sustainable behaviours.

That’s according to Gerdien de Vries, Director of TU Delft Energy Transition Lab, who spoke to FNZ about her research on the psychological mechanisms that play a significant role in green attitudes.

As a climate psychologist, De Vries studies climate-related issues such as the energy transition and reducing carbon emissions from a behavioural perspective – why do people, policymakers or organisations frequently not act as green as they think they should?

She says: “Sometimes our actions are not in line with what we want to do because a change is less comfortable or costs a lot of money.

“Furthermore, we tend to reward good behaviour with other bad habits. It’s an issue of ‘moral licensing’. For example, we continue to fly because we eat less meat, while we shouldn’t really be flying or eating meat.

“Or we follow lockdown measures imposed by governments, we feel we are acting morally right, but at the same time unconsciously we make the decision that we have a hard time now and we deserve a vacation to a tropical destination. This is where sustainability suffers.”

She also notes the need to follow various steps to make a real change towards a sustainable life or strategy could be experienced as ‘micro-stressors’, factors that create more stress and could lead to inaction.

According to her research, the uncertainty about when climate change will become a real problem can also be a real barrier to sustainable commitments: “Unlike coronavirus, with sustainability and climate change it is very difficult to see the direct consequence of our behaviour.

“We don’t see the direct danger. We see wildfires in the US, tsunami and still is easy for people to deny that these are because of our behaviour.”

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