Behavioural Science

Eco-Friendly Philosopher Does None?!

Research question

Does knowing how to be eco-friendly actually make you eco-friendly?


We all know what to do to be eco-friendly on a conscious level. We also know that this ‘knowing’ does not always result in being eco-friendly. This raises the following question: why would some people do what they know is a ‘right’ thing, while others won’t do the ‘right’ thing, despite knowing what to do to become eco-friendly?


We can clearly see that most people know of the climate situation and understand the need to be eco-friendly. However, knowing or understanding does not always lead to eco-friendly actions. Hence, we raise the question of why would some people follow their conscious eco-friendly thoughts and become more sustainable, whereas other people don’t do so? What exactly happens in the brain that gets some people to strive to translate eco-friendly thoughts into real actions? Why would the same type of eco-friendly thought work for one but not others?


A ‘Moral Philosopher’ study was designed to understand when thinking about eco-friendliness leads to being eco-friendly and when it doesn’t. We have grouped people according to their philosophical thinking of what is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ thing to do. In philosophical theory, ‘right’ thing is understood as ‘moral’, and the ‘wrong’ thing is understood as ‘immoral’. Hence, we have grouped people according to their style of moral thinking and have asked them to tell us what they think about the necessity to become eco-friendly and what they do to become eco-friendly. This did not only allow us to see what people say vs what people do but also track whether the way people philosophise about how moral actions impact their actual willingness to become eco-friendly.


The results revealed the fascinating impact of moral philosophy on the difference between people who will say one thing but will do another and people who will do what they say. On the conscious level, it seems that the thoughts of being eco-friendly are equal across everyone. However, this is not what our results suggest. Interestingly, our findings show that a non-conscious understanding of what is moral and what is not leads to different styles of philosophical thinking. This philosophical thinking then impacts whether the understanding of what is a ‘right’ eco-friendly action will translate into actual eco-friendly actions.

Why it Matters

Our study shows that moral thinking style matters because it can influence whether people will do what they say. On the conscious level, it may seem that understanding what is eco-friendliness is equal among many of us. However, our study demonstrates that action does not originate from conscious thought. That is, our results reveal that action originates from the non-conscious philosophical sense of morality. This suggests that we first need to understand how the sense of morality forms on the non-conscious level in order to be able to make sustainable change in the long term.


Zaikauskaite, L., Chen, X., & Tsivrikos, D. (2020). The effects of idealism and relativism on the moral judgement of social vs. environmental issues, and their relation to self-reported pro-environmental behaviours. Plos one, 15(10), e0239707.