People need good reasons to act eco-friendly

People say they care about the environment all the time. They eat organic or even vegan food. But in everyday life, their beliefs are not translated into behaviour, as the research of Martijn Keizer shows.

There is a disconnect between what people say and what they do, Keizer says. The researcher, who specialises in consumer behaviour and social psychology, will receive his PhD in social sciences this month. ‘During our research, people were asked if they care about the environment. The data says they do, and most people think it’s right to care, too. However, we found that in real life, there is no action.’

Internal decisions

Keizer has been investigating different motives people have when choosing whether or not to act pro-environmentally. His research also demonstrates how motivation can easily be lost due to simple changes, such as an increase in the price of organic food. People will only act pro-environmentally if you give them good reason to do so, Keizer says.

For example, Keizer researched people who commute to work, both short and long distance, by car. Both groups were asked about pro-environmental practices, like using a bike, public transport, or buying a more eco-friendly car. While short-distance drivers agreed to consider the possibility of using green transport, the long-distance drivers were not willing to change their behaviour that easily.

Eating insects

A similar principle applies to eating insects as a meat substitute. This source of protein has been proven to be good for both your health and the planet, and Jumbo in Groningen has even recently begun selling foods made from insects. However, the price for a small box is simply too high: while most vegetarian alternatives cost about 3 euros, bitterballen made from bugs cost more than 6 euros.

‘You can tell people that eating insects might be good for the environment, but if it’s expensive, no one is going to try’, Keizer says. ‘It is not realistic. The same happens with organic and biological food. When it’s too expensive, people get annoyed and don’t act on their norms anymore.’


So, if you want to change anything, it shouldn’t be people’s opinions, as Keizer discovered. ‘Many people already care about the environment and are willing to act pro-environmentally. However, the costs of doing so are simply too high in many cases. Reducing these costs is a more effective way of promoting pro-environmental behaviour than trying to change peoples’ opinions’.