Long-term effects of payments for environmental services: Combining insights from communication and economics

John M. Kerr, Maria K. Lapinski, Rain Wuyu Liu, Jinhua Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Interdisciplinary analytical perspectives can bring important insights to address complex sustainability problems. In this paper we present and apply a model that integrates perspectives from economics and communication sciences to address the question of what happens to pro-environmental behavior after the introduction and then the withdrawal of payment for environmental services (PES). In particular, we discuss the effects of financial incentives on social norms and the effects of norms on subsequent behavior after incentives have ended. This is important because the dominant literature on PES lacks a sophisticated understanding of social norms and fails to address what will happen to behavior once payments end. That literature addresses the potential problem that payments can crowd out or possibly crowd in intrinsic sources of motivation for pro-social behavior, but it lacks the sophisticated understanding of social norms that has the potential to help explain and address this phenomenon. We summarize experimental evidence based on our model showing that introducing a financial incentive for behavior change can change social norms around that behavior. These norms, in turn, can continue to influence behavior even after incentives have ended. PES programs can address this situation by actively evoking existing social norms in favor of conservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1627
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 13 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Interdisciplinary
  • Motivation crowding
  • Payment for ecosystem services
  • Social norms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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