The subject of social norms has been extensively looked at in sociology and psychology (Stedman 2002, Stoodley 1959, Summers and Wolfe 1977, Terry et al. 1999, Thøgersen 2008). More recently, economics is also grappling with the notion of social norms, how they affect behaviour and what, if any, are the implications for policy. Generally speaking, environmental economics is concerned with conserving resources and reducing or eliminating negative externalities. Traditionally, a divergence between the social optimum and market optimum suggests the use of market-based instruments, such as taxes, subsidies and permits, or command and control measures, such as standards plus a penalty for non-compliance. Alternatively, activities to promote public goods/positive externalities are undersupplied because the private cost of carrying out the activity exceeds the benefit to the individual. The role for government is then to change the incentive structure by increasing the pay-off to pro-environmental behaviour. However, much of this work ignores the role of non-monetary motivations to behave in a particular way. Exceptions include Elster (1989), Young (2007) and Ostrom (2000) and, within the economics of recycling literature, there is Brekke et al. (2003, 2007, 2010), Hage et al. (2009) and Halvorsen (2008). There is no doubt that social norms are pervasive and apply to many aspects of behaviour (Sunstein 1996). They are seen to apply to table manners, codes of dress, attendance at church, to name but a few.
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