A psychological approach for reducing carbon emissions from transport.

Current policies are mainly focused on inducing technological innovation and cost reduction, instead of encouraging individuals to act to minimise carbon emissions. Studies demonstrate that current strategies have not been adequate to achieve short and long-term emissions reduction targets in the EU and other countries...


Current policies are mainly focused on inducing technological innovation and cost reduction, instead of encouraging individuals to act to minimise carbon emissions. Studies demonstrate that current strategies have not been adequate to achieve short and long-term emissions reduction targets in the EU and other countries around the world. For example, the UK has not met the European targets for improving air quality. Accordingly, the Parliament and Defra reported that Greater London might not achieve some of the EU limits before 2025 if the UK continues with current carbon reduction strategies.

It is evident that actual reductions are not sufficient for avoiding global warming, nor for reducing the effects of air pollution from transport on breathing and respiratory systems, damage to lung tissue, cancer, and premature death.

Therefore, for meeting carbon reduction targets, studies suggest the necessity of implementing specific changes on individuals’ behaviour in the local communities. Moreover, understanding behaviours has become increasingly important for organisations to be able to formulate and implement more effective policies. So, group-targeted policies and social marketing can be used as a route to change behaviours focusing on community level.

In order to develop a targeted policy, Prochaska and Di Clemente have shown that one of the solutions is applying the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) to analyse and progressively change individuals’ behaviours (see figure below). For developers of social marketing, the TTM provides a framework for designing stage-matched interventions that takes into account most of the elements influencing negative behaviours and subsequently encouraging individuals through targeted information.

So, why not encourage communities to take pro-environmental actions for commuting by using the TTM as strategy within organisations?.

TTM approachThe Transtheoretical Model consists on following a motivational model of change based on five stages: In the first stage, precontemplation, the current behaviour is analysed to identify to what extend individuals are already making a positive contribution. During the contemplation stage individual is aware of its negative behaviour and this is open to receive information about pro-environmental actions to subsequently commit to an action plan during the preparation stage. Finally, individuals take actions and maintain their desired behaviour over time. Source: Diagram modified after Institute for Wellness Education.

Transtheoretical Model (TTM) and its applicability to environmental challenges

18157827-a-brain-growing-in-the-shape-of-tree-brain-psychology-growthFor several years, researchers and specialists have tried to understand the best way of analysing behaviours to design strategies for changing attitudes. During the 1980s Prochaska and his team developed a model closely linked to behavioural change, that incorporates a number of elements from other models of behaviour change (hence the name Transtheoretical). Since 2010, the TTM has been implemented on a new online system called pro-change, which allows individuals to change behaviours through online programs based on extensive scientific research.

The TTM has been widely used in health sector studies, such as: HIV prevention, smoking cessation and stress management – as well as some applications in physical activity and exercise studies. Nonetheless, while behavioural changes are evidently important to reduce carbon emission from transport, relatively little research about TTM has been made on commuter travel to clarify how this model can make a significant contribution to the climate change challenges.

Markowitz and Doppelt have defined the TTM from an environmental point of view as “any action that a person intentionally takes that makes a change from previous actions and that leads to a reduction in GHG”. This concept shows the acceptance of environmental specialists to incorporate the model for designing carbon reduction strategies. Accordingly, TTM has been applied to increase cycling and walking on commuting travel, which could be a positive first step towards increasing practices of the model on travel choices from an environmental point of view. However, most of the studies on travel choices have been analysed for weight management and exercise concerns instead of creating awareness in communities for tackling climate change.

Traditionally, behaviour change has often been interpreted to analyse specific events such as quitting smoking, drinking, or overeating. Nonetheless, current studies suggest the expansion of its applicability due to results has been successful by increasing participation of communities because it appeals to the whole population rather than the minority ready to take action. Accordingly, It is recommended further research to understand the most important factors motivating travel behaviour in different groups for different behaviours and across different geographical scales around the world.

The potential for designing strategies based on behaviour change can reduce carbon emissions much more quickly than other kinds of changes and should have explicit consideration as part of climate policy.

I invite organisations to analyse the possibility of implementing strategies that involve behavioural changes in order to make a long-term and significant contribution to the environment. Furthermore, your organisation could save money by making processes more efficient and reducing carbon emissions.


Read more at:

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Or contact Karla Sifontes/ karla.sifontes@mygreenfuture.org.

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