The motivational impact of smart incentives to promote sustainable behaviour

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


Global environmental problems stem for a large part from human activities. Mitigation of such problems therefore can be realised if people consistently engage in sustainable behaviours. To motivate people to act sustainably, various incentives can be implemented. Current measures to encourage sustainable behaviours often rely on incentives that target people’s extrinsic motivation; that is, their motivation to engage in sustainable behaviour in order to attain some external desired outcome, such as monetary rewards. Such incentives often come with negative side effects, notably the crowding out of intrinsic motivation, resulting in mere short term behaviour changes, as well as tainting people’s moral self-image, which may even cause the incentive to backfire (Bolderdijk & Steg, 2015). Recent research has proposed that incentives that target and strengthen people’s intrinsic motivation are more effective in stimulating a range of durable sustainable behaviours (Bolderdijk, Steg, Geller, Lehman, & Postmes, 2013; Schwartz, Bruine de Bruin, Fischhoff, & Lave, 2015). The question remains how incentives can be designed and framed to strengthen people’s intrinsic motivation to promote engagement in a range of sustainable behaviours. The current research aimed to test the motivational impacts of incentives to promote sustainable behaviours, and how people’s intrinsic motivation can be strengthened and secured. In line with previous research on the influence of people’s normative considerations on sustainable behaviour, we expect that incentives that emphasize the environmental goal behind the desired sustainable behaviour, as well as link the engagement in the sustainable behaviour to an individuals’ environmental values and self-identity, may be particularly effective in targeting and strengthening people’s intrinsic motivation act sustainably. Across two experimental studies, we examined the effects of differently framed incentives on participants’ intrinsic motivation to engage in various sustainable behaviours. Our results provide first insights into the motivational impacts of smart incentives to promote sustainable behaviours, and how such incentives may be designed and framed in order to strengthen people’s intrinsic motivation to engage sustainable behaviour. Future research and implications are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventInternational Conference on Environmental Psychology - A Coruña, A Coruña, Spain
Duration: 30-Aug-20171-Sept-2017


ConferenceInternational Conference on Environmental Psychology
Abbreviated titleICEP 2017
CityA Coruña
Internet address


  • intrinsic motivation
  • smart incentives
  • sustainable behaviour


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