The role of knowledge in mitigating the indirect rebound effect in pro-environmental consumer decisions

Lieke Dreijerink*, Michel Handgraaf, Robert Goedegebure, Gerrit Antonides

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


To limit climate change, it is important that humanity reduces its environmental impact by emitting less greenhouse gases. One way to reduce emissions is by people changing their consumption patterns and taking up pro-environmental behaviors (PEBs). People can perform different kinds of PEBs in different consumption domains, such as insulating their home to save energy or using an electric vehicle instead of a gasoline car. However, the intended environmental impact reduction that should follow from performing these PEBs is often not fully reached, as people may subsequently increase their consumption. For example, people start heating more rooms after insulation (e.g., Hertwich, 2005; Wallenborn, 2013), or increase their mileage when they drive electric (e.g., Holtsmark and Skonhoft, 2014). In economics, the phenomenon of an energy-efficiency measure not leading to the predicted energy savings is explained by the rebound effect. The rebound effect revolves around the cost reduction of energy use, leading to higher energy consumption. Rebound effects may arise directly, where saving in one domain increases consumption in that same domain (e.g., driving more miles with a more fuel-efficient car), or indirectly, where saving in one domain increases consumption in another domain (e.g., going on holiday overseas after purchasing a fuel-efficient car). But even though economic factors matter, in recent years the evidence for people not acting as rational agents when it comes to economic decision making has grown. Insights from behavioral economics show that people do not evaluate all available options when making a decision, because of limited cognitive capacity, available information, and time (Samson, 2023). For instance, people often fail to fully consider so-called opportunity costs; that is, when people are focused on spending money on a specific product, they fail to consider alternative ways to spend their money (Frederick et al., 2009) unless clear information is provided about these alternatives. In the case of pro-environmental decisions, moral factors appear to play a role. People may feel allowed to behave less pro-environmentally because their previous behavior provides them a license to refrain from performing another PEB (i.e., moral licensing; Khan and Dhar, 2006), or because they feel that others are also responsible to behave pro-environmentally (i.e., diffusion of responsibility; e.g., Hortensius and De Gelder, 2018). Both concepts are used to explain the psychological phenomenon of negative behavioral spillover, that is, a declining likelihood to perform a PEB after performing an initial PEB (Thøgersen and Crompton, 2009). Both moral licensing and diffusion of responsibility may also explain why people increase their consumption after taking energy-efficiency measures.
Original languageEnglish
Article number139289
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2023


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of knowledge in mitigating the indirect rebound effect in pro-environmental consumer decisions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this