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"Nudging the jetset to offset"; Voluntary carbon offsetting for air travel

"Nudging the jetset to offset"; Voluntary carbon offsetting for air travel
"Nudging the jetset to offset"; Voluntary carbon offsetting for air travel
In recent years in both academia and in many western governments, ‘Nudge’-style interventions have been tested and applied to various policy areas including public health, road safety, and saving domestic energy. Often these have been successful in terms of changing behaviour, partly because the interests of the citizen-consumer (pro-self ends) and those of the environment/society (pro-social ends) are in convergence. Less research has been conducted into using nudges for solely pro-social behaviours. In this thesis I discuss the application of nudges to promote one pro-social behaviour: voluntary carbon offsetting for air travel.
Testing nudges through randomised controlled trials and evaluating them through qualitative focus groups, nudges were found to have limited utility in promoting this target behaviour. Two explanations are proposed, one in terms of the design of the nudges, and one in terms of the substantive problems associated with this target behaviour. In terms of the design of the interventions trialled in this study, ‘too much information’ being provided, a ‘distant’ social norm message, and a lack of attention to ‘intrinsic values’ at the expense of more technical language may be barriers which pro-social nudges ought to avoid.

Secondly and more substantively, it is argued that when pro-social behaviours are not perceived as ‘common’, are not ‘visible’ (i.e. others cannot ‘see’ them being done, and so they are resistant to the power of social norms), and they are associated with negatively-constructed ‘cousins’ (as carbon offsetting is associated with invasive ‘extra’ services), then nudges are unlikely to be effective. This is a key empirical contribution to the literature regarding the practical boundaries at which nudging may start to fail.

These findings act as an empirical demonstration of the theoretical contribution of the thesis, which is a novel portrayal of the nudge paradigm as macro-libertarianism and micro-paternalism: a form of neo-liberal behavioural governance which is politically attractive, but is often ineffectual. The thesis concludes by arguing that when the interests of the citizen-consumer and those of the environment/society are not in convergence, nudging may be inadequate and tougher regulatory approaches, such as ‘budging’, may be necessary. Implications for both behavioural public policy and sustainable aviation are discussed.
University of Southampton
Tyers, Roger
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Tyers, Roger
a73cecb4-985e-4928-84f1-3692746adbcf
Buchs, Milena
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Clarke, Nicholas
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Stoker, Gerard
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Tyers, Roger (2016) "Nudging the jetset to offset"; Voluntary carbon offsetting for air travel. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 207pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

In recent years in both academia and in many western governments, ‘Nudge’-style interventions have been tested and applied to various policy areas including public health, road safety, and saving domestic energy. Often these have been successful in terms of changing behaviour, partly because the interests of the citizen-consumer (pro-self ends) and those of the environment/society (pro-social ends) are in convergence. Less research has been conducted into using nudges for solely pro-social behaviours. In this thesis I discuss the application of nudges to promote one pro-social behaviour: voluntary carbon offsetting for air travel.
Testing nudges through randomised controlled trials and evaluating them through qualitative focus groups, nudges were found to have limited utility in promoting this target behaviour. Two explanations are proposed, one in terms of the design of the nudges, and one in terms of the substantive problems associated with this target behaviour. In terms of the design of the interventions trialled in this study, ‘too much information’ being provided, a ‘distant’ social norm message, and a lack of attention to ‘intrinsic values’ at the expense of more technical language may be barriers which pro-social nudges ought to avoid.

Secondly and more substantively, it is argued that when pro-social behaviours are not perceived as ‘common’, are not ‘visible’ (i.e. others cannot ‘see’ them being done, and so they are resistant to the power of social norms), and they are associated with negatively-constructed ‘cousins’ (as carbon offsetting is associated with invasive ‘extra’ services), then nudges are unlikely to be effective. This is a key empirical contribution to the literature regarding the practical boundaries at which nudging may start to fail.

These findings act as an empirical demonstration of the theoretical contribution of the thesis, which is a novel portrayal of the nudge paradigm as macro-libertarianism and micro-paternalism: a form of neo-liberal behavioural governance which is politically attractive, but is often ineffectual. The thesis concludes by arguing that when the interests of the citizen-consumer and those of the environment/society are not in convergence, nudging may be inadequate and tougher regulatory approaches, such as ‘budging’, may be necessary. Implications for both behavioural public policy and sustainable aviation are discussed.

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Published date: November 2016
Organisations: University of Southampton, Social Sciences

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 407314
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/407314
PURE UUID: 417928e0-7bbb-4fd2-9d90-2a77b1d2aad9

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 01 Apr 2017 01:15
Last modified: 14 Mar 2019 06:10

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Contributors

Author: Roger Tyers
Thesis advisor: Milena Buchs
Thesis advisor: Nicholas Clarke
Thesis advisor: Gerard Stoker

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