Attitude-action gaps and the prospect of voluntary behaviour change

Australians have world leading levels of urban resource consumption and carbon emissions – an unsustainable position in the 21st century. Survey research at the Centre for Urban Transitions reveals that the known determinants of our large urban ecological footprints are primarily structural (linked to socio-demographics such as income, life cycle, household type, size etc.) as well as contextual (eg. dwelling type, vintage and size; public transport access etc.); and that behavioural triggers for consumption/conservation have proven difficult to identify beyond broad sociological labels such as ‘habit’, ‘social practice’ etc. A population segmentation based solely on stated environmental attitudes, opinions and intentions of 1200 Melbourne residents revealed three distinctive groups (‘committed greens’, ‘material greens’ and ‘enviro-sceptics’) which also reflected distinctive demographics and geographies – yet revealed actual consumption behaviours across these groups (for energy and water use, housing and appliance consumption and carbon intensity of weekly urban  travel) that were not statistically different from each other.

Interventions to achieve voluntary behaviour change that is persistent will be critical in the context of a basket of known built environment design innovation measures that are all required for accelerating a sustainability transition. A particular challenge for policy-makers, media and marketing specialists will be to find ways of closing the attitude-action gap of urban consumption.