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Political Research Exchange - PRX

The Influence of Social Norm Interventions on Voluntary Carbon Offsetting

Environmental Policy
Green Politics
Political Psychology
Robert A. Huber
Universität Salzburg
Robert A. Huber
Universität Salzburg
Brilé Anderson
ETH Zürich
Thomas Bernauer

Despite decades of research on pro-environmental behaviour, there is little consensus on its causes. Although controversial, individuals try to be pro-environmental by voluntarily carbon offsetting, which is when an individual pays for their emissions, e.g. from a flight to Hawaii, by investing in a project that reduces emissions, e.g. installing solar panels in Zimbabwe. The bulk of research on voluntary offsetting concentrates on which individuals offset and their willingness to pay. Why individuals offset is an open question. We investigate the effects of social norm interventions on offsetting behaviour.
Individuals are members to an array social groups and they perceive social norms and behave accordingly. We investigate the effects of two types of social norms, which have been shown to affect individuals’ behaviour. Injunctive norms refer to what ought to be done while descriptive norms signal common practice of the group to individuals. We expect that exposure to injunctive and descriptive norms will instigate individuals to offset.
The effect of social norms on voluntary carbon offsetting behaviour will be tested in an online survey experiment using different social norm treatments surrounding offsetting, specifically, injunctive, descriptive or a combination. We invite a random sample of car holders from Canton Zurich to participate in an online survey. Beginning questions focus on their driving practices and information about their vehicle. After treating participants with the social norm, we present the estimated emissions from their driving and invite them to offset these emissions.
This study adds to several areas of the literature on environmental politics and governance. Although offsetting is increasingly popular, little is known about individuals’ motivations. Social norms are a potential motivation. We assess the effects of social norms on public goods provision (i.e. offsetting) through different causal mechanisms and analyse whether different groups of consumers react differently to social norm intervention.
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