Cultural Evolution of Sustainable Behaviors: Pro-environmental Tipping Points in an Agent-Based Model

Image credit: Roope Kaaronen


To reach sustainability transitions, we must learn to leverage social systems into tipping points, where societies exhibit positive-feedback loops in the adoption of sustainable behavioral and cultural traits. However, much less is known about the most efficient ways to reach such transitions or how self-reinforcing systemic transformations might be instigated through policy. We employ an agent-based model to study the emergence of social tipping points through various feedback loops that have been previously identified to constitute an ecological approach to human behavior. Our model suggests that even a linear introduction of pro-environmental affordances (action opportunities) to a social system can have non-linear positive effects on the emergence of collective pro-environmental behavior patterns. We validate the model against data on the evolution of cycling and driving behaviors in Copenhagen. Our model gives further evidence and justification for policies that make pro-environmental behavior psychologically salient, easy, and the path of least resistance.

In One Earth
Roope O. Kaaronen
Roope O. Kaaronen
Postdoctoral researcher

Researcher of sustainable cultural evolution, collective behaviour change and decision-making under uncertainty.