Social norms, behavior influence environmental policy and vice versa

Ann Kinzig

TEMPE, Ariz. – A research team led by Arizona State University (ASU) senior sustainability scientist Dr. Ann Kinzig argues for a new approach to climate change alleviation: target public values and behavior.

Kinzig, chief research strategist for ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and a professor at ASU’s School of Life Sciences, urges policymakers to alter laws and regulations based on social values and the associated behaviors.

In a recent BioScience article, the team shares findings that just as pro-environmental behaviors (i.e., recycling and water conservation) can influence pro-environmental values, the interaction can work vice versa.

Co-authors include Nobel Prize winners Kenneth Arrow and the late Elinor Ostrom—named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2012—among others.

“Often we believe that we behave in a certain way because we hold certain values and that is certainly true,” Kinzig says. “But our values may also shift based on our behaviors. We may initially engage in recycling, for instance, because of an economic incentive, but the repeated act of recycling may create a value for recycling.”

Simply put, if policy dictates a requirement to recycle, the repeated act of recycling will become second nature—and even part of a value system—for individuals required to do it.

Full article available here.

The Global Institute of Sustainability is the hub of Arizona State University’s sustainability initiatives. The Institute advances research, education, and business practices for an urbanizing world. Its School of Sustainability, the first of its kind in the U.S., offers transdisciplinary degree programs focused on finding practical solutions to environmental, economic, and social challenges. Visit and track Twitter at Learn more on Facebook at


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Tara Mogan
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