New technology, changed lifestyles, and energy efficiency measures all have the potential to reduce emissions from our consumption. However, when we save money or time, what do we do with the resources that are freed up? If you don’t have a car, do you then fly more? The phenomenon where efficiencies or reduced consumption in one area risk increasing consumption in another is often described as rebound effects or so-called moral licensing. However, new research by David Andersson and Jonas Nässén shows that environmentally conscious individuals also have lower emissions in other areas.

Economically induced rebound effects, for example, can reduce the expected environmental gain from a more fuel-efficient car, as a cheaper cost per kilometer leads consumers to drive longer. The environmental gain is thus offset by increased usage. At the same time, indirect rebound effects can be caused by the savings made on reduced consumption of specific goods and services, leading to increased consumption of goods and services in another area with significant, equally large, or in some cases even greater greenhouse gas emissions.

In psychological research, such indirect effects are explained by the idea that environmental behavior can “spill over” onto other behaviors. Someone who sorts their waste may be more likely to choose to cycle to work, which is a positive “spill over,” but the opposite effect can also occur, where someone who cycles to work feels they have “done their part” and have room in their personal emissions budget for a flight.

In the study, David Andersson and Jonas Nässén show that a sustainable lifestyle in one area seems to be interconnected with reductions in other areas for a group of environmentally conscious individuals.

The research was made possible through collaboration with the climate calculator Svalna, which allows users to link their bank to the service to estimate the carbon footprint of each purchase. Users who wish to can also share data for research purposes (citizen science). By receiving aggregated data on both spent money and emissions in different areas, researchers could evaluate the effects of four low-carbon lifestyle options: not owning a car, not flying, not living in a detached house, and having a vegan diet. In addition to these lifestyle options leading to significant reductions in carbon footprint, they were not linked to substantial increases in expenditures on other goods and services with high emissions.

Among the study participants, a group of strongly environmentally engaged individuals, the results show that negative rebound effects can be avoided. The researchers now plan to investigate whether the results also hold true for a more representative sample of the Swedish population.

Read the full study “Measuring the direct and indirect effects of low-carbon lifestyles using financial transactions” here.

David Andersson, Postdoc, Department of Space, Earth and Environment, Physical Resource Theory.
+46 739 543 851