Handbook of Behavioural Change and Public Policy
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Handbook of Behavioural Change and Public Policy

Edited by Holger Straßheim and Silke Beck

Behavioural change has become a core issue of public policy. Behavioural instruments such as ‘nudging’ apply insights from behavioural economics and behavioural sciences, psychology and neurosciences across a broad range of policy areas. Behavioural insights teams and networks facilitate the global spread of behavioural public policies. Despite an ever-growing amount of literature, research has remained fragmented. This comprehensive Handbook unites interdisciplinary scholarship, with contributions critically assessing the state and direction of behavioural public policies, their normative implications and political consequences.
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Chapter 15: Nudging to sustainability? Critical reflections on nudging from a theoretically informed sustainability perspective

Basil Bornemann and Paul Burger


‘Nudging’ refers to a relatively new political steering approach that attempts to shape people’s choice architectures in such ways that they adopt certain desired behaviours without forcing, incentivizing or convincing them to do so. The proponents of the approach consider nudges highly effective and efficient instruments to address societal problems which are rooted in individual behaviour. Nudging is regarded as a particularly promising approach to tackle persistent unsustainable behaviour patterns in fields such as energy or food consumption. Yet, the discussion about the potential contributions of nudging to sustainability governance is only at its beginning. This chapter adds to the burgeoning discussion about ‘nudging sustainability’ in conceptual respects. It does so by critically reflecting on nudging from a theoretically informed sustainability perspective. The analysis reveals that there are important tensions between nudging and different sustainability conceptions. These tensions should be carefully taken into consideration in further research and practice on the role of nudges in sustainability governance.

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