Peek into the mindset of Croatia's youth as they navigate the landscape of environmental awareness and low-carbon behaviour. What is critical for promoting low-carbon consumption and lifestyles, among the youth?

Environmental insight: Youth clusters and carbon action

Peek into the mindset of Croatia's youth as they navigate the landscape of environmental awareness and low-carbon behaviour. What is critical for promoting low-carbon consumption and lifestyles, among the youth?

Research on individuals’ low-carbon behaviour is growing because about two-thirds of global carbon emissions are due to household or individual consumption. Transitioning to low-carbon alternatives to household or individual behaviour is crucial to reducing total carbon emissions and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. However, these changes often remain in the contemplating stage due to the complexity of linkages between determinants and their effectuation in low-carbon behaviours.

Low-carbon behaviour includes actions like saving energy, cutting energy use, and reducing carbon emissions in daily life. This involves moderating water and room heating, turning off appliances and lights, using energy-efficient appliances, recycling waste, reducing packaging, and choosing eco-friendly products. Transportation choices also impact carbon emissions.    

The size and scope of individual low-carbon behaviour are affected by socio-demographical, psychological, cognitive, emotional, economic, situational, or contextual factors. Sociodemographic factors, such as gender, age, education level, financial or residential location, and household ownership, have been found to influence low-carbon behaviour. In addition, psychological determinants of pro-environmental behaviour, such as environmental awareness, values, and knowledge, or environmental attitudes have been confirmed as conducive to low-carbon behaviour.

Peek into the mindset of Croatia's youth as they navigate the landscape of environmental awareness and low-carbon behaviour. What is critical for promoting low-carbon consumption and lifestyles, among the youth?
Credit. Midjourney

Interestingly, a rise in environmental awareness, defined as an understanding of human impact on the environment, does not always translate into a corresponding increase in low-carbon behaviour. Discrepancies between perceived behavioural expectations and actual actions are common. Nevertheless, current research on low-carbon behaviour seldom delves into the discernible distinctions among individuals concerning their awareness and tangible low-carbon practices.

In many cases, people are more aware of environmental issues than they act upon them. For example, someone might know the impact of car ownership on emissions but still drive when in a rush. Time constraints, lack of skills, conflicting priorities, and economic factors can hinder low-carbon actions. However, some individuals show more action than awareness, although this is less common. Significant differences in low-carbon actions exist even among people who seem similar, underscoring the importance of examining subgroup variations. Exploring the diverse behaviours within a population can reveal overlooked groups with similar patterns. Clustering individuals based on differences between awareness and actions can improve communication and enhance the effectiveness of behaviour change efforts and policies.    

What were our research aims?

Our research aims included identifying the typical profiles of young people’s low-carbon behaviours through an assessment and comparison of their environmental awareness with their actual behaviour. Subsequently, we examined socio-demographic differences within each cluster. By attaining these objectives, we aimed to deepen our understanding of the future development of sustainable low-carbon consumption and lifestyles.

Understanding the young people’s profiles is crucial for developing effective strategies to promote low-carbon consumption and lifestyles, particularly among the youth, who are future professionals and consumers.

Djula Borozan

Young people: A promising group for behaviour change

We investigated how environmental awareness aligns with low-carbon behaviour among Croatian youth. With their early grasp of environmental issues, young people are seen as key players in shaping future carbon actions. Their involvement is crucial for driving towards sustainable living. Identifying subgroups within this diverse demographic can help tailor interventions by various stakeholders, including government bodies, media, and educational institutions, to promote sustainable behaviours.

Prior clustering studies have effectively pinpointed various groups fostering pro-environmental or energy-saving behaviours within the broader population, households, and nations grappling with significant carbon emissions, acute energy challenges, or those in the global North. However, these studies have neglected to explore the diverse activities within smaller countries, such as Croatia. Aligned with the European vision of becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, Croatia is actively pursuing the decarbonization of its energy sector and the overall economy. Remarkably, it falls into the category of EU countries with the lowest CO2 emissions.

Emerging clusters of young people

We carried out an online survey that incorporated questions about low-carbon transition opportunities, personal low-carbon behaviour, awareness, perceived barriers, and incentives among youth, with a specific focus on university students. Employing the k-means clustering method, we categorized students into distinct groups based on their responses. This analysis revealed the presence of three distinct clusters:  

  1. Adaptive Cluster (68% of respondents): These students are generally aware of environmental issues but do not consistently translate this awareness into action, often due to barriers like time, effort, or financial constraints.
  2. Dutiful Cluster (5% of respondents): This group exhibits higher low carbon behaviour than their level of awareness, often influenced more by external factors such as laws and reward policies.
  3. Sceptical Cluster (21.1% of respondents): Students in this cluster show low levels of environmental awareness and low engagement in low-carbon activities.

The clusters exhibited statistically significant associations primarily with a limited set of socio-demographic variables. Specifically, members of Cluster 1 are more likely to be women than men, residing in urban areas, dwelling in houses, and belonging to families with 2-4 members. Additionally, they are inclined to perceive their financial situation as very good and pursue studies in social sciences.

Similarly, members of Cluster 2 are more likely to study social sciences and live in houses, with a tendency to assess their financial situation as good or very good. In contrast, members of Cluster 3 are predominantly men who are more likely to perceive their financial situation as good. They typically reside in urban areas, live in houses, and come from families with two to four members.

Diverse strategies needed to enhance low-carbon behaviour

The findings emphasise the complexity of translating awareness into action, highlighting the need for diverse strategies to address different barriers and motivations, as follows:

  • For adaptive students, increasing their actionable skills or alleviating barriers to low-carbon behaviours could be the most effective approach.
  • Dutiful students respond more to environmental regulations, laws, reward policies, or cost savings than to their internal values. Raising awareness may have a long-lasting effect on their low-carbon behaviour 
  • Sceptic students are the least populated, with relatively low levels of environmental awareness. They are candidates to benefit most from awareness-raising campaigns initiated by policymakers, educational institutions, or other stakeholders.

Actionable recommendation to support low-carbon behavioural transition

Collaboration between all levels of government or non-government organizations and all sectors of society and business is essential to the successful transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient world.

  1. The government should incentivize low-carbon behaviours among youth by offering recognition for eco-friendly actions, such as public transportation passes and discounts for low-carbon products. 
  2. The government and non-government institutions should support youth-led organizations driving young people’s efforts towards a net-zero carbon emissions community, such as youth advisory councils or committees.
  3. The educational sector should involve university or school-led initiatives such as community clean-up efforts, establishing on-campus renewable energy projects, or participating in local conservation programs. These experiences not only educate students about the importance of low-carbon behaviours but also empower them to take action in their communities.

In conclusion

Young individuals generally acknowledge the importance of transitioning to a low-carbon economy. However, a significant gap exists between their environmental awareness and actual behaviour. Analysing survey data from Croatian university students, we identified three distinct and stable clusters and explored socio-demographic characteristics within each cluster. The first cluster comprises individuals whose environmental awareness surpasses their actual behaviour, contrasting with the second cluster where the opposite is observed. The third cluster consists of sceptical individuals predominantly opposed or rarely engaged in low-carbon behaviour. Crafting diverse strategies for each cluster is essential to address varying motivations and barriers crucial for supporting low-carbon behaviour.

Acknowledgments. These works have been supported by the Croatian Science Foundation under the project IP-2020-02-1018.


Journal reference

Borozan, D., & Pfeifer, S. (2023). Unpacking Psychological Antecedents of Low-Carbon Behavior: What Differentiates Champions, Skeptics, Talkers and Walkers across Young Adults?. Sustainability15(21), 15650.

Dr Djula Borozan is a tenured professor at Josip Juraj Strossmayer University in Osijek, Faculty of Economics and Business in Osijek, Croatia. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Macroeconomics. Stanford University has acknowledged her contributions, listing her among the top 2% most influential scientists. Since 2021, she has served on the Council of Economic Advisors of the Croatian President. Her research focuses on economic growth, development, and energy economics.

Sanja Pfeifer is a Tenured Professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business at Josip Juraj Strossmayer University in Osijek, Croatia. She has conducted multiple studies concerning values, intentions, and behaviour gaps across the student and young population in Croatia. Her research interests include entrepreneurial behaviour, growth, and innovation. She is enthusiastic about supporting youth and entrepreneurs in effectively transitioning towards a climate-resistant future.