The role of compensatory beliefs in rationalizing environmentally detrimental behaviors

Aimie L. B. Hope, Christopher R. Jones, Thomas L. Webb, Matthew T. Watson, Daphne Kaklamanou

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Compensatory green beliefs (CGBs) reflect the idea that a pro-environmental behavior (e.g., recycling) can off-set the negative effects of an environmentally detrimental behavior (e.g., driving). It is thought that CGBs might help explain why people act in ways that appear to contradict their pro-environmental intentions, and inconsistently engage in pro-environmental behaviors. The present study sought to investigate the nature and use of CGBs. A series of interviews suggested that participants endorsed CGBs to (a) reduce feelings of guilt with respect to (the assumed or actual) negative environmental impact of their actions and (b) defend their green credentials in social situations. Participants also justified detrimental behaviors on the basis of higher loyalties (e.g., family’s needs), or the perceived difficulty of performing more pro-environmental actions. In addition to shedding light on how, when, and why people might hold and use CGBs, the research also provides new insight into how CGBs should be assessed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-425
Number of pages25
JournalEnvironment and Behavior
Issue number4
Early online date3 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • academic field
  • behavior change
  • content areas
  • energy
  • pro-environmental behavior
  • psychology
  • qualitative research
  • research methods
  • sustainability
  • RCUK
  • EP/G037477/1


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