2. Context: The Tension between Behavior and Attitude and the Psychology of Plane Travel
Plane travel is a present and future climate issue [6
] and is expected to nearly quadruple from 2005 to 2050 and likely to increase up to 3.5% per year [6
]. Currently accounting for about 2%–3% of global CO2
emissions, this number is forecast to be 22% by 2050 [14
]. However, there remain disparities between peoples’ sustainability practices and their plane travel practices [5
], which affect policy development in this area. Psychological factors remain important in achieving progress and behavioral change around this issue. Professional aeromobility is also very individual, and depends on the age, gender, source country, disciplinary area, and career stage [8
Theories that seek to explain the role and gap between behavior and attitude play a pivotal role in setting the context to explain what factors drive decisions about travel. The attitude/behavior gap refers to the difference between what our attitude to something is, versus our behavior in relation to it [18
]. This gap is also referred to as the value-action gap and is, in effect, the difference between what people do and say. It also reflects the differences between how people typify their concerns about the environment and other factors (i.e., economic or social life style choices) and their actions (i.e., purchasing and other—often non-environmental-behaviors).
The influence of the difference between pro-environmental attitude and behavior, and the discrepancies between them is well-researched [19
]. Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera [28
] state that there are six variables that may affect pro-environmental behavior ranging from how individuals assert their knowledge about issues and actions, and the extent to which they feel control over them, and the means by which their attitudes relate to their sense of responsibility. While it might seem reasonable to expect correlation between pro-environmental value orientations and subsequent behavior, this has consistently been shown not to be the case [29
]. Evident in multiple case studies of travel and tourism, it is clear that, despite having pro-environmental attitudes, people still travel by plane [30
]. Bushell et al. [32
] describe this as an action gap between scientists, governments, and the public, while Choi and Ritchie [33
], in a study on the willingness to pay offsets for plane travel, show that consumers are supportive of the idea but do not feel they should change. Rather, the airlines should ‘fix it.’ Decisions made about travel are also often subject to lower levels of environmental concern than daily contexts [6
] such as recycling and energy choices [38
]. Another barrier that explains the attitude behavior gap is the perception that ‘it is too hard to be green’ [41
] accompanied by the fact that green rhetoric is not always followed by pro-environmental or green behavior.
The Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) offers some explanation of this gap. It argues that attitudes only direct behavior to the extent that they influence intention [42
]. Thus, individuals may hold many beliefs about a particular behavior, but only a subset will be salient at any one time. As such, that attitude will be prioritized. Social pressure is still likely to determine people’s intention. The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) moves further to consolidate elements of the TRA via the inclusion of what is perceived as behavioral control, and exploration of the way it can affect and influence intent and behavior. For example, if you perceive you have greater control, there is likely to be a greater chance that subsequent (aligned) behavior will occur. This theory assumes that individuals want to be rewarded (or avoid punishment) for their actions and behavior. The TPB, thus, provides a conceptual basis by which to address the problem of incomplete volitional control, and ipso facto implies reliance on personal agency—it helps explain the ongoing disjuncture between pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors [43
]. Insights into this disjuncture are further provided by the notion of cognitive dissonance, which is the feeling of mental discomfort that occurs when one’s behavior is at odds with one’s beliefs, attitudes, or personas [20
]. Where there is a gap between self and social position, denial is used to justify dissonant behavior. In this context, denial is a mechanism used to explain actions in relation to climate change. In the context of plane travel, denials include justifying travel as a personal right, and the assertion that it does not matter anyway since individual actions alone will not be enough to solve these problems. Reis and Higham [47
] illustrate this well in a study of climate change perceptions among Australian non frequent-flyers, where participants did not exhibit any dissonance that led to denial and guilt but instead used the argument that they, as individuals, were unable to enact change anyway—a viewpoint that made them feel better about doing it. In a different study, McDonald et al. [16
] argue that, as ‘green’ consumers continue to fly, they use four strategies to reduce their dissonance, which include: (i) justification of ongoing flying behavior by arguing the high priority need to do the travel, (ii) reduction or restriction of flights, (iii) compensation strategies (i.e., changing other behaviors to compensate for flying), or (iv) to stop flying altogether.
More recent work has added to the discussion about the factors affecting pro-environmental behavior and by association, dissonance, that are relevant to this case study. One study [48
] describes the importance of leadership in promoting environmental behavior. This is a factor we argue is important in this paper as an important precursor to achieving change in the university sector. Other studies locate contextual factors as predominant in determining pro-environmental attitudes and behavior. One significant study in this area shows that contextual factors are critical to understanding consumer behavior [49
]. Another review [50
] of the personal and social factors that influence pro-environmental behavior reflects that influential factors are more complex than we suppose, and are key to understanding them is to also analyse their inter-relations. Another study in Sweden concludes that ecological citizenship is a factor that promotes pro-environmental behavior [51
]. A recycling project in Canada is also instructive, which demonstrates that positive messaging (delivered by religious authorities) helped develop significantly more positive attitudes toward recycling and the environment in general. This indicates that communications are also an important factor in the application of TPB and achieving correlative change toward pro-environmental behavior [52
]. This study, along with others, also highlights the importance of education as a means for developing pro-environmental behavior, including the initiation of collective behavioral action [53
Importantly (for this study), this new work on the TPB has focused not just on households, but also on people in the workplace. Nye and Hargreaves [54
] have applied and extended the TPB to examine the extent to which pro-environmental behavior in the workplace can be generated. As Blok et al. [55
] note, people spend up to one-third of their waking life at work so understanding how to bridge the gap between theory and behavior is crucial. Borg et al. [56
] highlight this factor in practice by integrating Schwartz’s Values Theory with Organisational Cultural Profiles, to demonstrate that the two are linked and again can help predict pro-environmental behavior, according to risk values. Another study asks whether researchers are ‘counting the right thing.’ By this they mean - is it relevant to assess what people are doing individually (i.e., recycling, water reduction) when greater trends such as meat consumption and air travel have much greater (proportionate) effects [57
]—essentially the crux of our own study into academic travel.
The role of values is, thus, also an important pre-determinant for pro-environmental behavior and may assist in closing the gap between behavior and attitudes. As Schwartz argues, human values show what motivates people to act the way they do, especially in the context of behavioral change in relation to climate change [58
]. The incongruities between held values can explain gaps between people’s attitude and behavior in certain areas of their life, but can also help motivate the implementation of altruistic behavior [58
], which in turn helps people translate aspirations into action [60
]. His theory has been applied in many recent contexts: Krystallis et al. [61
], for example, use it to help them understand consumer behavior in relation to various products. Rioux [62
] examines the link between pro-environmental values and young people with regard to recycling batteries, which highlights the role of value systems in affecting people’s behavior.
The role of attitudes is also a crucial factor, and has been investigated, via application of Azjens TPB, to help understand how attitudes can affect and help predict environmental behavior. Case studies provide rich insights such as Nigbur et al.’s [63
] analysis of kerb side recycling that, in documenting attitudes, assisted in predicting community participation of a recycling program. Another study [64
] one that sought to understand the factors motivating people in Spain to donate to rural sustainable development programs, found that attitudes were a determining factors (amongst others) in encouraging positive environmental attitudes (and altruistic behavior via donations). In the Australian city of Ballarat, the application of Azjen’s TPB, showed a correlation between positive environmental attitudes and concern about climate change with a willingness to change behavior [65
While these ideas offer some explanation of the incongruities between and means by which to understand the relationship between attitudes and behavior of plane travel practice [1
], these individual theories do not explain everything. Climate change is, above all, a problem of scale [69
] and how it is framed will mediate individual and collective responses to it, including development of climate adaptation [70
]. Cognition around climate change can be shaped by socio-physical contexts and social discourse, [71
] and framed by a range of factors. For example, Persson et al. [72
] argue that there is a distinct relationship between people’s values and climate change adaptation. Higham et al. [68
] argue this is partly because plane travel is a deeply entrenched practice, while Barr et al. [73
] assert it is due to the symbolic discursive appeal of plane travel as the epitome of leisure and consumption. Plane travel behavior is also justified by arguments that there is a lack of political action by the government [30
]. In this case, social pressure and norms construct travel as a social right and provide broader discursive tropes of denial that justify the inconsistency between attitudes; which ensures that any discomfort over dissonances are resolved.
Responses to climate change occur within a wide pyscho-societal context and social constraints that affect individual decision-making [40
]. In this case, relationships between individual academics, their institution, and wider social and familial networks are also important to justifying plane travel. For example, one position asserts the advantages of flying as a quicker, cheaper option, which enables increased time with family or work [16
]. Furthermore, Cohen et al. [6
] find that there are a number of sociological barriers to achieving more sustainable plane travel behavior, and that, while voluntary change can happen without social intervention, stronger societal interventions can facilitate a greater likelihood of pro-environmental behavior. Higham et al. [68
] concur saying that radical changes are needed to create a climate sustainable pathway. Another study shows that, despite participants undertaking individual footprint exercises that infrastructure, and social and psychological barriers to behavioral change remain, which locks people into unsustainable patterns of behavior [76
Thus, an emphasis on individual change is not necessarily the best way to tackle society’s relationship with climate change [78
] and infrastructural/socio-cultural contexts remain key barriers (and opportunity) for the uptake of low carbon behavior like car-pooling, less plane travel, or less meat consumption. Radical change is required, change that embraces the complexities inherent to social change processes, and that address the underpinning systemic reasons why people think and act the way they do [79
Collectively, these ideas provide background to the dynamics of decision-making and motivations for individual behavior-change (how and why people travel) that we sought to explore in our project around academic flying.
These results reflect a fundamental disconnect between individual academic behavior and what could be perceived as an ethical responsibility to moderate it. In effect, while academics may worry about their impact on climate change, they fear the career consequences of not flying or reducing their flying for academic purposes even more. This is consistent with studies that show career matters more than the environment [90
] and that geographic mobility is essential to achieving academic excellence [7
]. As Young et al. [92
] note, it is ironic that ”those demographic groups most aware of environmental damage produced by flying (such as tertiary educated, affluent, middle aged people) are also the group most likely to be frequent flyers.”
This has direct implications for how tertiary institutions, which wish to be seen as building knowledge and sustainable solutions about climate change. However, obtaining commitments from the academe to reduce plane travel is challenging. As Smythe [93
] notes of her university in the US, as academics assume that plane travel will be offset and paid for by the university, they do not consider reducing their travel. In an analysis of academic mobility across three New Zealand universities, Hopkins et al. [7
] find that there is a lack of meaningful commitment to sustainability, and those assumptions about travel or pressure to travel for promotion and to network, inhibit opportunities for behavioral change. Glover et al. [6
] similarly find that, although some Australian universities have sustainability policies, none have committed to specific measures to reduce plane travel as part of their policy. Changing current mobility practices will entail taking less convenient and more time-consuming types of transport, which makes academics fear being ‘left behind’ in a fast-moving ‘hypermobile’ professional world. For academics, there is also the intense psychological appeal of what Høyer [10
] terms ‘conference tourism.’
Ultimately, the concepts around environmental sustainability do not appear to be applied in practice—or even considered in a conscious way, in this context. This study not only confirms a gap between attitude and behavior, but offers insights into and consideration of what role tertiary educational institutions play in progressing climate friendly sustainability agendas. In this context, our study shows that academics assume that there is little utility in individualizing notions of environmental harm and responsibility, since, as Young et al. [94
] (p. 22) point out, the flyers dilemma then “becomes a discursive device through which an unsustainable industry can increase production without shouldering material responsibility. The flying addict scapegoat becomes a necessary precondition for the reproduction of aero mobility.” Nonetheless, we argue that there are ways (via identity, proximity, and role modelling) of contextualizing and incentivizing individual behavior in a collective way within the workplace to build sustainable institutional change practices.
We suggest that personal identity plays a pivotal role in decision-making over whether to over-ride both cost and environmental concerns in relation to travel [95
]. We all have multiple identities and it is the contest between them that often results in dissonant behavior “where actions do not meet the requirements of the identity ‘script,’ the individual will need to reason with themselves about why their behavior is acceptable” [95
] (p. 1007). Or people may feel guilty but appease it by drawing on other identities to justify their behavior. Our results highlight the fact that staff at the University of Adelaide felt that their identity as a successful academic was contingent on being able to travel. This demonstrates how identity plays an influential role in how we navigate the attitude/behavior gap and how people conceive of themselves (i.e., the ‘self’ [22
] (p. 94)). This attachment to academic identity, was also shown in the prioritization of promotion and staff unwillingness to ‘rock the boat’ by trying different ways of doing things. The desire to achieve and make a specific academic contribution alludes to the importance of having individual identity in disciplinary spaces.
Our results also show the power of such institutionally based/prescribed ‘role’ identities, defined as “self-definitions that individuals apply to their identities as a consequence of the structural role they have” [96
] (p. 198) or as “internalized role expectations” that is linked, therefore, to performance [97
] (p. 285). The role individuals play, thus, encapsulates a cluster of expectations that are considered the ‘right way to behave’ by others, in particular, institutionally based
others, especially within their discipline [98
]. In our study, the constellation of reasons given by staff about their travel (as Dean, as Professor, etc.), also reflect the institutional expectations of them as well as their desire to fit into their structural roles. Role identity (both personal and structural) can, thus, have a significant impact on behavioral intention, and be mediated not just by individual orientations, but social norms. This has implications for how universities may grapple with managing this dilemma.
Our results also reveal the importance of proximity. Hales and Caton [100
], who examine the role of proximity ethics on the ‘flyer’s dilemma,’ argue that the tension between positions on climate change and travel are intertwined with our need for proximity, that is, the desire to have intimate face-to-face contact with others in our family, social, and professional domains. As our findings highlight, all academics asserted the irreplaceability of face-to-face interactions (eg. at conferences, field work) for their work. Unsurprisingly, given more than 30% of the staff at the university were born outside of Australia, many staff also discussed the need to travel for family reasons. Furthermore, while staff showed strong willingness (and in some cases, experience) to trial virtual alternatives, their advantages were not considered enough to offset the value of direct experience nor were technocratic solutions seen to be able to provide for the underlying relational complexities of face-to-face interaction. The ‘moral pressures’ of a hypermobile life, combined with the need to fly for family and work-related reasons show that proximal relations, or face-to-face interactions, drive motivations for and toward climate change care and responsibility [100
]. Thus, while changing cultural values (to ones that valorize pro-environmental behavior) may offset the desire to travel by plane [16
], the importance of face-to-face interaction has wider implications for how leaders within university institutions think about how to create climate-friendly means of doing academic work.
5.3. Institutional Leadership and Role Modelling
Lastly, the intersection of all these factors raises the question of how staff could be incentivized to change their behavior so it is more environmentally-sustainable, or whether the inherent value of academic work, and the ways in which travel reinforces identity and proximal relations justifies flying. Do academics have an ethical responsibility to advocate sustainable behavior change? Hickel et al. [101
] reflect on this question in relation to the carbon cost of 6000 anthropologists attending the yearly anthropology conferences. They conclude that it is not morally justifiable because the 900 kg carbon emissions per person attending the conference is equivalent to more than twice that emitted by a citizen of Bangladesh in a whole year. They add that this carbon expenditure is, in fact, contrary to the Anthropology Society’s own ethics code, which makes explicit statements about ensuring anthropological work does not compromise the people for whom they advocate/study with and for. They conclude: “by insisting on our carbon-intensive annual meeting, we are effectively saying that our surplus pleasure (if it can be called that) is ultimately worth more than the survival of the very people we claim to care so much about. This is not a morally tenable stance” [101
] also challenges the practice of ‘academic jet-setting’ to conferences, and asks whether, in so doing, academics perpetuate the social and environmental injustices they often seek to redress in the papers they give. Others argue that it is incumbent on researchers and institutions both to be role models for the global community and change their travel practice as well as institutional policy about it [15
]. This is a real change possibility: a study of what factors affect pro-environmental behavior (PEB) of individuals in the workplace found that leadership behavior that provided organizational support to pro-environmental behaviors, positively affected both the intention to act, and the pro-environmental behavior of staff [108
]. This finding suggests that role modelling can be a catalyst for motivating individual pro-environmental behavior.
One might usefully ask at this point, what kinds of solutions could there be for this dilemma? Various ideas have been touted as opportunities to create such change: increasing the cost of travel as a way of forcing academics to prioritise travel is one. Dolsak and Prakash [103
] suggest making carbon footprint data (as with salary information) publically available, or establishing an internal carbon tax [103
]. In Australia, the Australian Research Council, a national body that dispenses research monies annually could add a carbon test to its national interest test to spur academics to think about and reduce their carbon impact. In the development of Strategic Plans, all universities could actively explore ways of changing the discourse, practice, and metrics around what constitutes career progression within the university sector, so that staff who choose to travel less, yet still perform at high levels are competitive when they seek promotion opportunities. Active investment in climate smart technologies that will significantly reduce the need for much face-to-face travel is another option. Another solution may simply be to ‘mainstream’ the issue of staff plane travel within a wider organizational sustainability agenda. As Blok et al. [55
] highlight in a case study of a university in Holland, institutional action on sustainability across the organization does promote pro-environmental behavior in staff.
Institutions could adopt travel guidelines within each faculty, which make academics think about and make judicious decisions about their travel. The lead author of this paper, for example, always asks a series of questions prior to deciding which travel opportunities to take—and forgo, including: (i) is the travel essential?, (ii) can it be done in any other way?, (iii) can someone else at that location do the task?, (iv) how long and how far away is the location (and therefore proportionate benefit to climate miles expended) and, (iv) is it possible for value to be added to the travel undertaken? Collectively, the asking and answering of these questions has meant that the travel that does get undertaken has value and weight, and that, while academic work expectations are largely met, there is, overall, significantly less travel undertaken each year that would otherwise occur.
In this way, role identities could potentially be reshaped by institutional reform: individuals will incorporate the organizations expectations within their own self-identities to reflect the characteristics of their workplace. Organisations that have the power to enact examples of social responsibility, combined with active ethical leadership, will motivate their employees to do the same [101
5.4. Seeding the Conditions for Radical Change
The development of ethical leadership at institutional levels makes connections between individual attitudes and behaviors with wider societal frameworks and trends. This bridging between systems and values potentially creates the circumstances for innovation and transformation within and between institutions. We need to see what other ideas may fertilise a move toward pro-environmental behavior in relation to academic travel. While individual change undoubtedly has power, there is a need to shift the emphasis from individual guilt and blame, to a discourse of forward-looking responsibility, including one that focusses on institutional rather than individual responsibility [111
]. It is naive to simply assert that plane travel should ‘simply stop’—and we are specifically not
advocating this per se. Given the power that institutions have to shift discourse and potentially behavior, however, there are opportunities to mobilize collective action on climate change [112
] and change organisational expectations.
Van de Peol et al. [94
] (p. 63) note that a ‘problem of many hands’ occurs if there is a gap in a responsibility distribution in a collective setting that is morally problematic. An example of such a problem, climate change has collective effects, and responsibility for both the problem itself and its solution is widely and often unevenly distributed [113
]. This is a paradox in that, if no-one is meaningfully asked to be accountable for the impacts after the event, then, no one need feel responsible beforehand. Thus, a collective institutional response and action on academic plane travel could overset what is so often a normative discourse of ‘right and wrong’ and incentivise transformative individual pro-environmental behaviors by role modelling them at an institutional scale. As Doan [112
] (p. 550) asserts: “Instead of acting as though an absence of clear solutions absolves us of responsibility for participating in collective action, loosely structured groups might take their shared ‘not knowing’ ….as a starting point for generating provisional, working diagnoses, for building their individual and collective problem-solving capacities together.”