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The definition of value action gap

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 4262 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Value-action Gap

The value-action gap is a term used to describe the gap that can occur when the values or attitudes of an individual do not correlate to their actions. More generally, it is the difference between what people say and what people do. This discrepancy is most associated within environmental geography, as usually attitudes affect behavior; however the opposite often seems to be the case with regard to environmental attitudes and behaviors (Blake 1999; Barr 2004). The outcome is that there is a disparity between the value placed on the natural environment and the level of action taken by individuals to counter environmental problems. This has been termed the ‘value-action gap’, or occasionally, it is referred to as the ‘attitude-behavior gap’ (Kollmuss and Agyeman 2002).

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Debates surrounding the issue of the value-action gap have mainly taken place within environmental and social psychology. Research is often based within cognitive theories of how attitudes are formed and how this affects individuals’ behavior (Blake 1999). This aims to explain why those with a high regard for environmental issues do not translate this into their behavior.

The research suggests that there are many internal and external factors that affect behavior and the reasons behind consumer choices. Therefore, it can be difficult to identify the exact reasons for why this gap exists. When purchasing a product for example, many attributes are assessed when making decisions and these affect the reasons behind buying behavior such as; price, quality, convenience, and brand familiarity (Dickson 2001). Therefore, environmental or ethical considerations are often not taken into account, regardless of attitudes people have regarding the environment.

Therefore, it is not a change in attitudes that is required, but a fundamental shift in behavior towards the environment and individuals’ use of natural resources, to ensure sustainable development and conservation of the environment.

The rest of the page will outline the usage of the term in the literature, and examples in various studies. The final part will summarize the key debates surrounding why a value-action gap exists, starting with the most influential.

1. Development of the term:


Theories regarding reasoned action state how attitudes shape and influence behavioral intention, which in term shape actions. The theory of reasoned action states that behavioral intention is dependent on attitudes surrounding that behavior and social norms (Fishbein and Ajzen 1975).  This means that a person acts or behaves in a way that correlates to their attitudes towards that behavior. Therefore, a person’s voluntary behavior can be predicted by his/her attitudes and values on that behavior (Kaiser et al 1999). Homer and Kahle (1988) argue that attitudes influence behaviors and therefore values can explain the reasons behind human behavior. However, the opposite appears to be the case for certain actions, especially those related to environmental or ethical actions.

In recent decades, public support for environmental protection measures has grown and, according to Barr (2004), there has also been a growing interest in ethical consumption. This has been fuelled by pressure groups, consumer groups, and even businesses (Young et al 2010).Furthermore, increased media coverage of environmental disasters and social problems has also resulted in a heightened concern of such issues. This was given a political boost by the publication of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (Stern 2006). Therefore, people are more aware of environmental issues, such as global warming or climate change. It is often reported that many people have a high concern for environmental issues and ethical consumption, for example, Dunlap (2002) used survey date which states that 54% of Americans agreed environmental protection was a key priority, even if economic growth was restricted. Furthermore, Banerjee and Solomon (2003) also argue that the general support for Ecolabels and ethical foods is high among the US public.

With these studies in mine, it is expected that there would be an increase in pro-environmental behavior, such as recycling, or limiting energy usage (Flynn et al 2010). However, these positive attitudes have not translated into a large increase these behaviors and ethical consumption is still relatively low (Aguiar et al 2009). Thus, attitudes are not always a clear prediction of behavior, resulting in the ‘value-action gap’. This is shown within the market share for ethical goods, which is low in comparison to other goods. According to Young et al (2010) the market share of ethical foods is only 5% of total food sales in the UK. Even well known, high-profile ethical products still have a small percentage of the market share. Ronchi (2006) reports that the global sales of Fairtrade were over US$83 million in 2003, yet the total value of Fairtrade sales accounts for little over 0.01% of global trade. Thus, consumers’ buying behavior does not reflect their positive attitudes toward ethical products (De Pelsmacker et al 2006). This means that other factors are more significant that values relating to the environment. This environmental value-action gap is of key importance to environmental policy, as it is prevalent across scales, and finding ways to overcome it should increase the effectiveness of policies.

2. Application (Further explanation and examples):

Even though many support ethical trade in principle, this is often not taken into consideration as a purchase criterion. Cohen and Murphy (2001) argue that for around 40% of consumers the environmental friendliness of a product will never be a factor in purchasing decisions regardless of positive attitudes towards ethical consumption.

There are many studies which support the existence of a value-action gap. Mostly these can be found within the field of environmental geography. Lane and Potter (2007) found a discrepancy between attitudes and behavior regarding the adoption of cleaner vehicles. They reported that concern for the environmental impact of cars did not result in behavioral changes at the individual level. Thus, what consumers reported as their intended actions or concerns often did not translate into their actual behavior.

Furthermore, Vermeir and Verbeke (2006) also found that positive consumer attitudes towards sustainability were not consistent with their behavioral patterns. They found that even when attitudes were positive towards sustainable dairy products, intentions to buy these products was low. They also found that people’s perceptions of the availability of sustainable dairy products was low, which might explain why intentions to buy was low.  Additionally, evidence of this gap has been found with organic food as illustrated by Hughner et al (2007) who show that despite 46-67% of the population expressing favorable attitudes for organic food, the actual purchase behavior is only 4-10% of different product ranges.

3. Key debates:

The main debates surrounding the issue of the value action gap are described below:

Factors that affect behavior:

The key issue is why our attitudes often fail to materialize into concrete actions (Barr 2004). There are many factors that lead to an individual’s behavior, and therefore it is not just personal values that affect behavior.  People’s values are not fixed and are negotiated, and sometimes, contradictory. Cognitive factors alone will not adequately explain environmental action (Chung and Leung 2007). The decision-making process is hard to predict as positive attitudes are not followed by positive intentions. Attitudes alone are a poor predictor of intentional behavior as there are many more factors that influence pro-environmental behavior (Kollmuss and Agyeman 2002). In models of behavior, information generates knowledge, which then shapes attitudes, leading to behavior. However, what shapes behavior is a complex process. The result is that attitudes are not necessarily a clear determinant of behavior.

Blake (1999) argues that the relationship between attitudes and behaviors is moderated by the structure of personal attitudes themselves; and external or situational constraints. He argues that if attitudes are based on direct experience then they are more likely to be predictors of behavior and behaviors often result from social norms. External or situational constraints refer to restrictions outside the individual’s control, such as economic of political factors.

Young et al (2010) argue point out that the gap can be due to “brand strength; culture, finance; habit; lack of information; lifestyles; personalities; or, trading off between different ethical factors” (p22). Moreover, time or convenience can often be the major determinant of consumer behavior, and therefore the value-action gap in understandable for environmental and ethical products.

Vermeir and Verbeke (2006) argue that consumers are passive with regard to sustainable consumption, and work within their budget rather than following their values. Furthermore, behavior is often based on habit and therefore values concerning the environment are usually not taken into consideration. People act impulsively and in ways that do not correspond to their declared evaluations and goals (Boulstridge and Carrigan, (2000). Therefore, this can account for the low market share of sustainable products (Minteer et al 2004).

There are also many different theories regarding how consumers make decisions. These can be applied to try and explain why there is a value-action gap for some behaviors. For example, microeconomic theory (consumer theory) states that, “humans make decisions that maximize their utility” (Sammer and Wüstenhagen 2006:188). Therefore, if buying ethical or environmental products does not maximize their utility then they will not purchase them, regardless of their attitudes towards these issues. Making these decisions requires a comparison of the costs and benefits of alternative actions, rather than about certain values, within their budgetary constraint. This means other factors, such as price or quality, are still more important.

Moreover, Chatzidakis et al (2007) argue that consumers use neutralization techniques to justify pursuing their more selfish goals instead of purchasing environmental friendly or ethical products. Therefore, environmental values are usually less dominant in the decision-making. Thus, the main motivations for actions are self-interest rather than altruistic (McEachern and McClean 2002).

Therefore, Ajzen and Fishbein (1975) point out that in order to find a high correlation between values and actions, the researcher has to measure the attitude toward that particular behavior.

(The factors involved in making people willing to reduce environmental damage are fundamentally different from the factors involved in making people take active steps to reduce damage and to improve the environment.)

Information deficit:

One key explanation for the discrepancy between attitudes and buying behavior is the lack of information on certain issues (Dickson 2000). This is considered a significant barrier to ethical behavior. The most effective means to overcome the ‘value-action gap’ is to translate environmental concern into pro-environmental behavior. Many argue this can be achieved by increasing information.

Blake (1999) identifies that the core assumption regarding the value-action gap is that the main barrier between environmental concern and action is the lack of appropriate information. Eden (1996) argues that polices fail to understand the gap between information and action. She argues that understanding of issues creates awareness and it is this understanding that is the cause of behavior.  Hence, it is often considered that one of the most effective ways to encourage pro-environmental behavior is to highlight important facts around the issues. Environmental education is one way in which these environmental messages can be delivered, and therefore filling the value-action gap with information should help to change public behaviors (Gale 2008, Burgess et al., 1998). Furthermore, Owens (2000: 1142) argues that “if people had more information about environmental risks, they would become more virtuous”.

Traditional thinking supported this idea that increased knowledge tended to encourage favorable attitudes which, in turn, lead to pro-environmental action. Burgess et al (1998) called this the ‘information deficit model’. Many Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) still base their campaigns around increasing awareness, on the assumption that this will led to action (Kollmuss and Agyeman 2002). Some argue that to increase environmental action there needs to be educational marketing campaigns on the ethical and environmental issues to change people’s attitudes towards these issues, and thus change their behavior (McEachern and McClean 2002). Many environmental policies are based around this ‘information deficit model’ as policy-makers assume that environmental education will lead people to act in order to meet policy objectives (Blake 1999). Owens (2000) points out that governments often aim to encourage action by increasing awareness and knowledge about certain issues. For example the UK government’s ‘Are You Doing Your Bit?’ campaign which was launched in 1998 aimed to develop public understanding of sustainable development, and thus, to encourage a change in behavior of individuals.

However, the effect of increasing information on behavioral change is debatable. Different people will respond and interpret the same environmental information in various ways and sometimes it is interpreted in an opposite way to what is expected (Myers & Macnaghten, 1998). Barr and Gilg (2002) argue that just increasing information will not lead to a behavior change that would close this gap, and information-intensive campaigns are likely to be unproductive. Due to the increased media attention surrounding environmental issues, and products such as Fairtrade having a high profile, it could be argued that there is already a lot of information on these issues, and it is considered that in the West, general awareness on environmental issues is high (Thornton 2009).

Sammer and Wüstenhagen (2006) point out that while people may be aware of ethical and environmental issues, this does not necessarily mean that it plays a major role in their actions. The result is that overall environmentally responsible behavior is low. These findings suggest that the ‘value-action gap’ cannot be overcome simply by using an ‘information deficit’ model of individual participation. Increasing information does not itself guarantee action at the individual level and information campaigns around raising awareness are not are effective as some may suppose (Jackson 2005). Even if values are high few people take environmental actions which involve changes to their lifestyle and often environmental actions that are taken are unrelated to particular concerns an individual may have. 

This relates to broader issues surrounding methods of environmental governance. The value-action gap can be considered evidence against the use of non-state market driven (NSMD) form of governance which rely on consumers to create change.  If our attitudes are not translating into behavior then these methods are essentially flawed. This would suggest that other methods are more appropriate to encourage environmental action, such as regulation and economic incentives (taxes and grants)  (Retallack et al 2007)

Attempts by government to affect public behavior have traditionally been based on providing knowledge through big publicity campaigns and changing behavior through

Barriers to behavior:

It is widely considered that there are many other barriers, besides a lack of information, which inhibit ethical behavior causing a value-action gap to exist. Numerous barriers can constrain motivations for action. Jackson (2005) uses the concept of ‘bounded rationality’ to explain how, even when individuals are pursuing utility, their decision making processes are ‘bounded’ by psychological and environmental constraints.

Blake (1999) points out that various models of behavior are flawed in that they fail to take into consideration the social, individual and institutional constraints. Various conditions, institutions and personal day-to-day responsibilities constrain actions that can be regarded as ethical (Myers & Macnaghten, 1998). Thus the cause of the value-action gap can be explained in terms of personal, social and structural barriers to action. Blake identifies that this gap is filled with barriers that block the progress from values to action. In his model, action is blocked by many factors intruding into the process, rather than just a lack of information. Moreover, barriers often overlap and are combined which limits behavioral change.

Blake (1999) identifies three different categories of obstacles that exist between the sphere of ‘concern’ and that of ‘action’: individuality; responsibility and practicality. However, which factors are important will vary for different individuals and environmental actions.

* Individual barriers refer to environmental concerns being outweighed by other conflicting attitudes. People may perceive themselves as the wrong type of person to carry out ethical actions.

* Responsibility barriers refers to the idea that people may not act despite supporting environmental action, because they believe it is not their responsibility to help solve environmental problems. Jackson (2005) identifies that the acceptance of personal responsibility for one’s actions and an awareness of their consequences is the basis for the intention to perform a pro-environmental or pro-social behavior. ( Lack of trust)

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* Finally, practical constraints prevent people from adopting pro-environmental action, regardless of their attitudes or intentions. These include lack of time, money, physical storage space (in the case of recycling), as well as lack of information, encouragement and pro-environmental facilities such as recycling and adequate public transport provision. Some people may also be physically unable to carry out some environmental actions.

There will be some overlaps between different barriers and the reasons why people do not engage in pro-environmental action. Therefore, Blake argues that policies need to tackle these barriers, not just provide more information or recycling facilities.

Retallack et al (2007) also identifies other barriers such as uncertainty, skepticism about the issue and distrust of national governments and organizations.

organizations that are trusted more by the public, such as environmental NGOs, are likely to be most successful.

Attitude-Behaviour-Constraint (ABC) Model of Paul Stern (2000)

Market-based mechanisms.



* 4 See also

Attitudes, behavior, cognitive psychology, social psychology, theory of planned behavior, social marketing


I chose this topic because the gap between attitudes and behaviors is something that really interests me.  I find it interesting that people can have values on something but then not act upon them. This is something I wanted to explore further, and try to tease out what the barriers to action were, leading to a value-action gap. The term value-action gap did not have a page so  I thought it was appropriate to create one, furthermore there is very little on the whole of Wikipedia on this topic as other key terms, such as the ‘information-deficit model’ did not have a page. However, this also made it more difficult writing my own page as I could not hyperlink these terms, meaning I had to add more explanation.

I created the page by adding a short summary on the value-action gap, then going into a more detailed explanation of the term. The article then goes on to explore some of the key debates surrounding the issue. Both for and against arguments are explored in order to maintain neutrality to the page. Therefore, writing neutral while still being critical.  I followed the structure of other pages relating to environmental geography to ensure coherence within Wikipedia.

The three schools of thought start with the earliest/most influential.

In comparison to the length of other essays written this year, I found this assignment difficult due to the limited space allocated to explore the topic. This meant that some points were not as detailed as I would have liked and there were other points I would have liked to have included.  Therefore, I chose to narrow to page down to a few detailed points and focus on a specific topic. I wanted to ensure the individual sections were not too long as on Wikipedia many articles are split into quite small sections. Also due to the layout of the website, even 500 words can look like a lot. The phrase ‘value-action gap’ is rarely a topic itself in the literature, therefore writing a neutral page explaining the term was difficult.

I wanted to make sure that anyone could understand it, even if they had to prior knowledge to environmental issues. The idea of the value-action gap is also something that can potentially affect everyone, and therefore I thought it would be a good topic for Wikipedia, as anyone can understand and relate to the issues in hand. I also purposely used clear and concise language to ensure anyone; especially people without academic knowledge could also understand the topic.

Reflection on the feedback from the last assignment was to include lots of information and academic resources.  To ensure a clear structure and identify the key characteristics.

This is because it is also important to show the theoretical side. The changes represent a broader theoretical perspective that hopefully others will find useful. Moreover, certain words have been linked to other Wikipedia pages, such as ‘network governance’ so I don’t have to go into more depth on definitions of phrases, and readers can choose to further explore these terms.

It was also interesting to write for an audience and exciting to know that if a Google search is done for the term, then something I have written will be one of the first articles. Tried to remember the audience is potentially global.

What I have learnt about Wikipedia in general is that it can often be a very useful source of knowledge, especially for background information on a topic. Many of the pages are actually quite long and packed with sources and information, which means the reader can usually gain a good overview of the topic. Therefore, a number of entries are a lot more academic than some may suppose. This suggests that Wikipedia is more reliable than most realise as many of the pages are written by academics. Furthermore, something I did not realize was how well the site is analyzed and checked by many members, which ensure that false information cannot be put up. Made me realise how many more pages still need to be created.

the ‘Value Action Gap’. It basically describes those situations where a person holds values that are inconsistent with their behaviour. It’s particularly evident in people’s attitudes towards the environment- we have the knowledge but when it comes to actually doing something about it, other factors take greater presidence e.g. economic.


The value-action gap is a term used in environmental geography. It describes the gap between the high value of the environment and seriousness of the problem of damaging it, and the relatively low level of action taken by the population to counter the problem. It is often agreed that there are numerous barriers of motivation for individual and collective environmental action, and that the factors involved in making people willing to reduce environmental damage are fundamentally different from the factors involved in making people actually take active steps to reduce damage and to improve the environment[1]. It is therefore argued that a fundamental shift in the attitudes held by individual citizens towards the environment and their use of natural resources is needed to ensure sustainable development.


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