Closing the Sustainability Intention-Action Gap

Support for the idea of changing our behaviour to help the environment is both high and growing. For example, the latest wave of our Great Green Sustainability Study (conducted in April 2020) found that 80% of consumers agree that they WANT to do more to help the environment. Similarly, 75% (up from 71% in October 2019) agree that they COULD do more.

This is positive news, but it’s unlikely that the same proportion will follow through and actually change their behaviour. The difference between these figures is known as the ‘Intention-Action Gap’.

Bar Chart showing that % who agree they could or want to do more to help the environment is higher (by the value of the Intention-Action Gap) than the % who actually do.
The Intention-Action Gap (values are illustrative).

Why does the Intention-Action Gap exist?

Different barriers can prevent individuals from following through with new or intended behaviours. Research from our Great Green Sustainability Study found that the three key barriers making it difficult to act sustainably are:

  • Cost
  • Difficulty in finding sustainable products
  • Inconvenience.

Closing the Intention-Action Gap with behavioural economics

The challenge, therefore, is in finding ways to help consumers overcome these. One approach to doing this is the COM-B behaviour change model. This well-validated framework states that Capability, Opportunity and Motivation all need to be present to change Behaviour.1

  • Capability is defined as: a person’s psychological or physical capacity to change
  • Motivation is defined as: all the internal mechanisms – both automatic and reflective – that either activate or inhibit behaviour
  • Opportunity is defined as: contextual factors that enable behaviour.

The Government, brands and manufacturers should work together to put measures in place that will help increase consumers’ opportunity (for example, by making it more convenient to act sustainably), capability (by providing them with the right knowledge, and by making sustainable products more available and affordable) and motivation (by using incentives or feedback that encourages desired behaviours). Once these barriers have been reduced and motivation has risen, environmentally-friendly behaviour should increase and the Intention-Action Gap will close.

To find out more about our Great Green Sustainability Study or how Impact can help you with sustainability research, contact Tom Gould, Head of Consumer, at

To find out more about our Behavioural Economics Team and how your research can benefit from behaviour insights like these, contact Olivia Brickman, Head of Behavioural Economics, at

1 Michie, S et al, The behaviour change wheel: A new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions, 2011,

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