Raimi shows stakeholders how to avoid "crowding-out" support for effective environmental policy

March 16, 2022

How can policymakers promote pro-environmental behaviors, such as limiting beef consumption or turning down the heat, without causing decreased public support for effective regulatory climate policies? Kaitlin Raimi, associate professor of public policy, offers a new framework that maximizes the benefits of climate interventions.

“Critics [who prefer traditional climate policies] fear that adopting simpler behavioral interventions may divert attention from and even crowd out public support for climate policies,” Raimi writes. “Crowding-out is a well-studied phenomenon in which motivation to take one action diverts attention from and diminishes interest in another action.” Fortunately, Raimi argues, these crowding-out effects tend to be very small, so may not deserve the attention they sometimes receive. Still they are best avoided wherever possible.

So, to avoid crowd-out, Raimi proposes the SESH formula, which is composed of four strategies: push for specific high-impact behaviors, accurately convey the behaviors’ effectiveness, promote behaviors that are similar to desirable policies, and frame the desired behaviors as steps toward a higher goal. Her article is the first to propose evidence-based, practical guidelines for avoiding crowd-out.

Raimi breaks down each point of her formula, beginning with pushing for specific high-impact behaviors. She explains that because people tend to choose behaviors that seem easy or important, interveners must carefully choose target behaviors that have high impacts. They must also be very specific about how people should behave and communicate that information clearly to avoid confusion. 

Next, Raimi discusses how to accurately convey the behavior’s effectiveness. She recommends being frank about the fact that behavior interventions cannot solve climate change entirely, and therefore, climate policy is still necessary. Further, policymakers must communicate how a behavior’s effectiveness compares with other approaches. Both of these strategies avoid crowd-out.

Because crowding out is less likely to occur when two actions are perceived as similar or related, interveners must choose target behaviors that logically relate to policies. But, policymakers must be careful about what the audience considers being related, as expert opinions can differ from that of the public. Finally, Raimi advises interveners to lay out  how behaviors and policies are related to their audiences to ensure success.

According to Raimi, when people perceive two behaviors as working together toward a higher goal, they are more likely to complete them both. So, interveners must frame desired behaviors as steps toward a higher goal. Similar to other areas of her SESH formula, Raimi highlights the importance of explanation and  communication when discussing the connections between behaviors and the higher goal of mitigating climate change.

Raimi hopes that her new framework helps interveners decide which behaviors to target and how to frame them. 

“By applying the SESH formula,” she concludes, “interveners can minimize the risk that crowding out will occur and can thereby maximize their interventions’ beneficial effects on climate change.”

Read the entirety of Raimi’s article, “How to encourage pro-environmental behaviors without crowding out public support for climate policies,” published by Behavioral Science & Policy