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Jan-Willem Bolderdijk: When doing the right thing is socially undesirable

Lecture by Jan-Willem Bolderdijk, organized by the Centre for Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Effective Altruism Groningen

Many consumers wish to minimize the social and environmental harm associated with their consumption decisions. Yet sustainable innovations often fail to reach a ‘tipping point’ – a critical mass of consumers. Why?
Any innovation initially fights an upstream battle, as it defies existing customs and traditions. I propose an additional hurdle exacerbating the difficult introduction stage of sustainable and other morally-charged innovations: interested consumers may be reluctant to act on their principles, knowing this can be mistaken for negative judgment of other consumers who seem to be less concerned.

Importantly, this tendency to hide one’s principles could have society-wide implications: mainstream consumers are unlikely to adopt innovations that appear unpopular, and governments are less prone to invest in innovations that lack substantial demand. This results in a lock-in effect, trapping actors in a social system by a norm that does not reflect their private, more sustainable principles. In other words, I argue that a micro-level psychological phenomenon – the tendency to hide one’s sustainable principles from others – may result in macro-level outcomes: the slow diffusion rate of sustainable innovations.During this talk, I will discuss the research that has led to these predictions, as well as future studies that are aimed to test them.

When & where?

Wednesday 28 February 2018, 19:30-21:00
Room Omega, Faculty of Philosophy

Last modified:19 February 2018 11.23 a.m.