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The motivation–impact gap in pro-environmental clothing consumption


Accurate models of pro-environmental behaviour can support environmental sustainability. Previous studies identifying the psychological predictors of pro-environmental behaviour rarely accounted for environmental impact. We studied the greenhouse gas emissions of clothing purchasing across four countries. Clothing purchasing is responsible for 2–3% of global emissions and severe, local environmental degradation. We found, using multiple regression analyses, that psychological factors like attitudes and personal norms strongly predicted a common self-reported behaviour scale of clothing purchasing but only weakly predicted clothing-related greenhouse gas emissions. This result challenges widespread inferences using pro-environmental behaviour scales and suggests that psychological factors may be a poor predictor of clothing-related environmental impact.

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Fig. 1: Correlations between psychological factors and clothing behaviours.
Fig. 2: GHG emissions increase with higher self-reported pro-environmental clothing behaviour (EAC).

Data availability

The dataset analysed in the present study is not publically available due to data protection policies specified by the funding projects. The dataset is available from the corresponding author upon request.

Code availability

The analysis code and study materials are available via the Open Science Framework:


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We thank P. C. Stern and T. Dietz for helpful discussion and feedback. K.S.N., W.G. and T.J. are grateful for the funding provided by the Trash-2-Cash project (grant no. 646226) funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the Mistra Future Fashion Project Phase II funded by the Swedish Mistra Foundation. K.S.N. also gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Carlsberg Foundation, grant no. CF20-0285.

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Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed to the conceptualization of the research. K.S.N., T.J. and W.G. collected the data. K.S.N. analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. C.B., F.L., W.H., T.J. and W.G. provided critical comments and revisions. All authors approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kristian S. Nielsen.

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No ethics approval was obtained for the present study as this was not common practice nor institutionally available at Copenhagen Business School at the time of data collection. However, the study posed no risks to the participants nor included deceit and an informed consent was obtained from all participants.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Thijs Bouman, Stephanie Moser and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Methods, Tables 1–14 and Figs. 1 and 2.

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Nielsen, K.S., Brick, C., Hofmann, W. et al. The motivation–impact gap in pro-environmental clothing consumption. Nat Sustain (2022).

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