Scaling Up Change: A Critical Review and Practical Guide to Harnessing Social Norms for Climate Action

Sara M. Constantino, Gregg Sparkman, Gordon T. Kraft-Todd, Cristina Bicchieri, Damon Centola, Bettina Shell-Duncan, Sonja Vogt, Elke U. Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Anthropogenic carbon emissions have the potential to trigger changes in climate and ecosystems that would be catastrophic for the well-being of humans and other species. Widespread shifts in production and consumption patterns are urgently needed to address climate change. Although transnational agreements and national policy are necessary for a transition to a fully decarbonized global economy, fluctuating political priorities and lobbying by vested interests have slowed these efforts. Against this backdrop, bottom-up pressure from social movements and shifting social norms may offer a complementary path to a more sustainable economy. Furthermore, norm change may be an important component of decarbonization policies by accelerating or strengthening the impacts of other demand-side measures. Individual actions and policy support are social processes—they are intimately linked to expectations about the actions and beliefs of others. Although prevailing social norms often reinforce the status quo and unsustainable development pathways, social dynamics can also create widespread and rapid shifts in cultural values and practices, including increasing pressure on politicians to enact ambitious policy. We synthesize literature on social-norm influence, measurement, and change from the perspectives of psychology, anthropology, sociology, and economics. We discuss the opportunities and challenges for the use of social-norm and social-tipping interventions to promote climate action. Social-norm interventions aimed at addressing climate change or other social dilemmas are promising but no panacea. They require in-depth contextual knowledge, ethical consideration, and situation-specific tailoring and testing to understand whether they can be effectively implemented at scale. Our review aims to provide practitioners with insights and tools to reflect on the promises and pitfalls of such interventions in diverse contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-97
Number of pages48
JournalPsychological Science in the Public Interest
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • climate action
  • climate change
  • environmental policy
  • interventions
  • social norms
  • social tipping


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