Knowledge for better food systems

Paper exploring why people adopt lower-carbon lifestyles

This is a very interesting study. It’s based on a very small set of interviews - 16 people who self-identified as deliberately trying to live a lower-carbon lifestyle because of concern about climate change – and so its findings don’t necessarily apply to other people living in lower carbon ways.

However, what is interesting about it is that it shows that people’s motivations for living in less carbon intensive ways are not primarily environmental. A concern for social justice is often much more important, as well is a desire for a more equal society. The reference and abstract is as follows:

Howell, R.A. (2012). It’s not (just) ‘‘the environment, stupid!’’ Values, motivations, and routes to engagement of people adopting lower-carbon lifestyles. Global Environmental Change


This exploratory mixed-methods study uses in-depth interviews to investigate the values, motivations, and routes to engagement of UK citizens who have adopted lower-carbon lifestyles. Social justice, community, frugality, and personal integrity were common themes that emerged from the transcripts. Concern about ‘the environment’ per se is not the primary motivation for most interviewees’ action. Typically, they are more concerned about the plight of poorer people who will suffer from climate change. Although biospheric values are important to the participants, they tended to score altruistic values significantly higher on a survey instrument. Thus, it may not be necessary to promote biospheric values to encourage lower-carbon lifestyles. Participants’ narratives of how they became engaged with climate action reveal links to human rights issues and groups as much as environmental organisations and positive experiences in nature. Some interviewees offered very broad (positive) visions of what ‘a low-carbon lifestyle’ means to them. This, and the fact that ‘climate change’ is not necessarily seen as interesting even by these highly engaged people, reveals a need for climate change mitigation campaigns to promote a holistic view of a lower-carbon future, rather than simply offering a ‘to do’ list to ‘combat climate change’.

The paper can be downloaded here.

Note that Rachel Howell will also be presenting her work at a seminar at the University of Surrey on the 19th March (see here for details).

You can read related research by browsing the following categories of our research library:

Add comment

Member input

Plain text

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

You might also be interested in a much larger follow-up study, involving 344 people who answered a survey about the values, motivations and formative experiences that influence their lower-carbon lifestyles:

Howell, R.A., S. Allen. (2017) People and planet: Values, motivations and formative influences of individuals acting to mitigate climate change. Environmental Values 26(2):131-155.

Available to download from Rachel Howell's webpage free for those who don't have access to the journal: