Individual behaviour in focus: Swiss scientific studies chart the path to sustainable actions

Individual behaviour Swiss scientific studies sustainable actions

What does sustainable behaviour entail? This is a question of critical importance to decision-makers. CEOs and politicians bear the responsibility of promoting environmentally friendly practices within their organisations and communities. At the same time, responsible action for the residents of Switzerland often involves re-evaluating their current lifestyles. But how can deeply ingrained habits, structures, and processes be changed?

Scientific studies from NFP 73 build a bridge between theory and practice: They have researched typical consumption behaviours in Switzerland and their environmental impacts, demonstrating how sustainable actions can be successfully integrated into concrete strategies in business and politics, and how responsible consumer behaviour can be encouraged among the population.

Research findings on sustainable behaviour in Switzerland

The success of sustainable behaviour and consumption heavily depends on the actions of both corporations and individuals. Rebound effects can diminish the positive impacts of resource savings, especially when the money saved is spent on other environmentally damaging activities. Moreover, environmental policies can lead to unintended negative consequences due to unforeseen behavioural patterns.

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations play a crucial role in the behaviour of individuals and companies. While intrinsic motivation stems from personal fulfilment, extrinsic motivation is driven by the desire to receive rewards or avoid penalties.

Thus, the NFP 73 studies have investigated the factors that influence sustainable behaviour in Switzerland. They reveal that an individual’s environmental identity has a significant impact on their actions. Interestingly, it is noted that making sustainable decisions in one area does not adversely affect behaviour in other areas. Understanding the environmental identity of target groups is essential for identifying successful strategies to promote sustainable behaviour.

A second important insight is that messages highlighting the environmental impacts of personal decisions can have a stronger influence on sustainable behaviour than those emphasising personal values. A heightened, conscious awareness of nature can have positive effects on sustainable behaviour, irrespective of personal attitudes towards environmental protection.

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The NRP 73 develops knowledge for a sustainable, resource-efficient economy in Switzerland that promotes prosperity and enhances competitiveness.

The latest findings emphasise that sustainable action is not just an ecological issue but also one of economic sense, for both companies and individuals. The studies provide insights on resource-efficient shopping in Switzerland, the right places to invest, and why forgoing excessive consumption is also an investment in a better future.

Scientifically based action recommendations

The NFP 73 focus on “Sustainable Behaviour” has specifically addressed the following project topics:

  • Gentle nudges for SMEs
  • Rebound effects in the sharing economy
  • The influence of environmental identities
  • Sustainable consumption behaviours
  • Extending the lifespan of mobile devices

Further scientific findings from Switzerland, along with practical recommendations for consumers, are available in the NRP 73 Media Center. CEOs, female and male politicians can find briefings tailored for them, freely available online, including downloadable PDFs on various topics:


For those who prefer to gain insights “on the go” via audio, the NFP 73 podcast series features two episodes specifically discussing sustainable behaviour/consumption:


Sustainable behaviour and conscious consumption as keys to success

The research findings highlight not only the ecological and economic benefits of sustainable behaviour for businesses but also the necessity of promoting the use of natural resources by private households in Switzerland.

Sustainable goods and services should not be more expensive than their unsustainable counterparts. Information about sustainable options and the positive impacts of behavioural changes needs to be clearly communicated. At the same time, it is crucial to ensure that intrinsic motivation among consumers is not undermined by inappropriate external incentives such as pricing and regulation. Thus, measures that successfully initiate changes in consumer behaviour always activate both social and ecological identities.

The results also show that behaviours and perceived obstacles vary significantly between different consumption areas and even within these (e.g., different food products). It underscores the need to understand specific issues and decision-making contexts to identify and implement measures that promote sustainable consumption in various areas. The detailed results and the report can be found in a recent ZHAW study.

This text was produced in cooperation with the National Research Program (NRP 73). The editorial responsibility for all text content lies with the authors.