Nudging Towards Sustainability: A Study of the Drivers of Pro-Environmental Behaviour and the Effect of Nudges to Overcome Barriers for Sustainable Consumption

Laura Plank & Laura Ekholm Axters

Student thesis: Master thesis


The environment is facing considerable challenges. Due to the ever-growing population on the planet - soon to reach 9.6 billion people - food production must keep up to satisfy the increasing demand. Combined with the growing affluence of major parts of the population, a significant rise in demand for meat has been noticed. However, meat production has a devastating effect on the environment, predominately through the resource-intensive breeding and high methane emission of cattle.
Meat consumption is deeply ingrained in cultural and habitual consumer behaviour, making it very difficult to change. Thus, to ensure the planet’s well-being and limiting the environmental impact of consumer diets, researchers seek to understand the underlying drivers of pro-environmental behaviour and how to overcome barriers to behave sustainably. Unfortunately, the efforts to change unsustainable behaviour have shown limited success thus far.
This research investigates the underlying factors for engaging in pro-environmental behaviour - specifically that of buying less meat - by making use of the Motivation-Ability- OpportunityFramework by Ölander and Thøgersen. At the same time, the effect of nudging as intervention strategy is explored. The research setup was twofold. Through an online experiment simulating a supermarket setting, we asked participants to shop groceries for dinner. Following this, measurements of prevalent motivation and ability to shop meat-free were carried out through an enclosed questionnaire. Additionally, the experiment included four different conditions to test the effect of an ease and convenience nudge, accounting for an increased opportunity, and disclosure nudge on meat choice.
Our research found that the underlying barriers to decreasing meat purchase are habits and positive meat attitudes. Further, we found that through simple nudges, meat purchase can be decreased substantially at the point of sale. The implications of this research are considerable: by employing nudges at the point of sale, sustainable behaviour can be enhanced, and environmentally harming attitudes and habits potentially overcome.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2018
Number of pages117
SupervisorsJesper Clement