Why People Just Watch Climate Change Happening and Don’t ACT

Despite growing concern about climate change and global warming, barriers still exist that prevent individuals from behaving in an environmentally-friendly way, arguably because they don’t know what to do, or they don’t consider the matter urgent.

A recent article written by Dr Gerdien de Vries argues that the bystander effect partially explains an individual’s inaction when it comes to global warming.[1] The bystander effect occurs when the presence of people around them acting passively discourages an individual from intervening in a situation. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any one individual to intervene.

At Impact, we were curious to see the extent to which of the findings from our self-funded research on consumers’ awareness, behaviours, and knowledge of environmental issues corroborated de Vries’ argument. Our survey of 2,006 UK respondents identified four segments with varying views on the environment. At a total level 30% of the consumers surveyed agree that it is not worth doing things to help the environment if others do not do the same. However, we see larger differences when comparing responses from each segment. One sizable segment in particular stands out; the ‘Educated Non-Doer’. These individuals are knowledgeable on environmental issues but lack the time and/or opportunity to act in an environmentally-friendly way. Findings show that a staggering 79% of ‘Educated Non-Doers’ agree it is not worth them doing things to help the environment if others do not do the same.

Our findings show that an individual’s inaction is influenced by what people around them are doing. If ‘bystanders’ are acting passively an individual is unlikely to take any action without being nudged to do so, even if they think it is important.

Impact has been leveraging this information to provide our clients with actionable recommendations on how to encourage individuals and organisations to act more sustainably. These recommendations, developed in partnership with our internal behavioural economics team, revolve around:

  • Disrupting current habit loops of waiting for others to act first
  • Increasing a sense of personal responsibility by setting expectations to act more sustainably
  • Providing education on the severity of the current climate situation
  • Providing individuals and organisations with information on what actions they can take.

If you have any upcoming consumer, utilities or health projects that could benefit from behavioural insights like these, please do get in touch to discuss how we could help you.

We also invite you to read our self-funded Great Green Sustainability Study which you can download here. 

[1] De Vries, Gerdien, 7th January 2020, ‘How the bystander effect can explain inaction towards global warming’ [accessed: 1st February 2020]

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