Publication Detail

Developing Sustainability-Oriented Values: Insights from Households in a Trial of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles


Journal Article

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS), Electric Vehicle Research Center

Suggested Citation:
Axsen, Jonn and Kenneth S. Kurani (2012) Developing Sustainability-Oriented Values: Insights from Households in a Trial of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles. Global Environmental Change 23 (1), 70 - 80

This paper explores the possibilities of consumer transitions to sustainability-oriented values. We draw from sociological and psychological literature to develop a conceptual framework that reflexively links an individual's values and self-concept to their behaviors. We inductively explore the consideration, and in some cases development, of sustainability-oriented values in a small number of narrative accounts of peoples’ encounter with a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle during a multi-week trial. Because a plug-in hybrid vehicle substitutes electricity for gasoline, it is a technology that potentially symbolizes sustainability-oriented values. We classify participating households according to Schwartz's 10 motivation types, where households associate sustainability with different motivations, namely benevolence, universalism or self-direction. We categorize households into three groups: those that demonstrate no interests in sustainability-oriented values, those that demonstrate interest in developing such values during their plug-in hybrid vehicle demonstration experience, and those that were already committed to sustainability-oriented values and behaviors. We observe that households open to change are more likely to develop sustainability-oriented values if: (i) their self-concept is open to change (liminal), either as a temporary transitional state or sustained as a value, (ii) they associate sustainability with broader motivational values that are already central to their self-concept, in this case benevolence, universalism or self-direction, and (iii) they experience positive social support for new, sustainability-oriented values within their social networks. Our exploratory findings imply that sustainability-oriented values can be developed in households who did not previously express them. Value change opens new possibilities for sustainable consumer behavior, practices, and policy.