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Preferences for change: Do individuals prefer voluntary actions, soft regulations, or hard regulations to decrease fossil fuel consumption?

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Ecological Economics, Volume 68, Issue 6, p.1701-1710 (Submitted)





Energy conservation, Environmental behavior, Personal freedom, Preferences for change, Regulations


Pittsburgh residents (n = 209) reported their preferences for voluntary actions, soft regulations, and hard regulations to (a) limit the number of SUVs and trucks and (b) increase green energy use for household energy consumption. These two goals were presented in one of two motivating frames, as addressing either environmental or national security issues. For the goal of limiting SUVs and trucks, results indicated that participants favored voluntary actions over hard regulations, and soft regulations over voluntary actions. For the goal of increasing green energy, results indicated that participants preferred both voluntary actions and soft regulations over hard regulations, but had no significant preference between voluntary actions and soft regulations. How the problems were framed did not significantly affect participants' willingness to accept voluntary actions or regulations. Participants' environmental attitudes (as assessed using the New Ecological Paradigm scale) had a strong positive relationship with support for regulatory strategies intended to change the behaviors in question. Women were more likely to support voluntary actions than men. The loss of personal freedom was frequently mentioned as a reason for saying no to hard regulations.