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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Boosting understanding of lifestyle carbon emissions : evaluating the effectiveness of carbon calculators and carbon labels to promote climate action Hanson-Wright, Brynley


Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with products and actions are challenging for people to conceptualize, making personal carbon calculators and carbon labels promising options to aid climate-friendly decision-making. My first study used a pre-registered between-subjects experiment (N = 790) to evaluate the efficacy of a carbon calculator for promoting climate action. Behavioural intentions for 2023 and reported behaviours in 2019 were used to quantify a projected change in carbon footprint—including domains of food, transportation, housing, and material purchases—and I compared how this intended shift in emissions differed between groups. Those provided with feedback about their carbon footprint planned to decrease their personal emissions in the future by 13.02% (M = -1.42 tonnes CO2e) while the control group did not (M = 0.05 tonnes CO2e) and this difference was significant (t(788) = 4.03, p < .001, d = 0.29). Additional exploratory measures indicated no effect of carbon calculators on civic intentions, eco-guilt, or donations to carbon offsets. The second pre-registered study (N = 599) investigated the effect of food carbon labels on behavioural intentions and GHG knowledge using an online between subjects design. Labels significantly reduced the emissions of hypothetical food choices when compared to both a control and climate-framing group (d > .33, p<.01). Labels also led to significantly more accurate estimates of the GHG emissions in the menu items relative to the control group (d = .3158, p =.006) and mediation analysis revealed that knowledge explained 20% of the labels’ effect on food emissions. Though information provision alone is insufficient to address the climate crisis, my findings indicate that boosting knowledge about greenhouse gas emissions via carbon calculators and carbon labels can help individuals make pro-climate choices in their daily lives.

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