Citizen Driven Environmental Action

Climate action


The climate research project “Citizen Driven Environmental Action” (the CIDEA project) 2010–2014 evaluated methods to motivate and commit people in Denmark to reduce their carbon footprints.

Danes eat a lot of meat, buy a lot of consumer goods and have a tendency to prefer modes of transport that are bad for the climate. Addressing these serious challenges, and motivating people to be really serious about making climate-friendly choices, are not things that the government, local authorities or the private sector can do alone.

Successive governments and agencies have tried various tacks – e.g. green taxes and funding for green solutions – with varying degrees of success. Researchers and politicians alike have run information campaigns focusing on individual attitudes and consumer behaviour. Based on social-psychological theories, they assumed that influencing attitudes changes behaviour and would encourage people to make more climate-aware choices – despite them costing more or being more hassle.

Study after study has shown that, when it comes to the climate, people will more often than not say one thing, but do another. Having the “right” attitude to reducing our carbon footprints is one thing, everyday life is another. The CIDEA project sought to identify which types of climate interventions have the greatest impact.


In 2010, the team set up a collaboration with climate officers in seven local authorities: Kolding, Køge, Herning, Skanderborg, Copenhagen, Odense, and Middelfart. They identified 12–15 private or public-private climate projects, and monitored them closely for the next four years. In three of the local authorities, the researchers issued a questionnaire about habits and attitudes to (for example) heating and shopping. They received a total of 2,000 responses.

History shows that a strategy of state-run information campaigns is not very effective when it comes to the climate. They just don’t work to any significant degree. Our research shows that communities, on the other hand, have a great effect. Whenever you manage to engage whole villages and housing associations – or most of the people in them – the majority wins the sceptics over and the results are more effective and long-lasting.

Jens Villiam Hoff, professor of Political Science, UCPH

CIDEA local-authority and private-sector climate projects focused on particular parts of the population and themes. For example:

In Copenhagen, residents of the AB Søpassagen housing association introduced solar cells to supply electricity and become CO2-free.

In Køge, projects included the cycling initiative “Car-free School”, and “Green House”, which led to the development of a transport game.

In Herning, the residents of the village of Studsgård set a target of reducing CO2 emissions by 25% from 2008–2012 by using solar panels, turning agricultural land into forest, setting up a “windmill guild”, making climate-friendly dinners, opening recycling shops, more sorting of waste, etc.

CIDEA deployed interactive research methods. Throughout the project, the researchers kept up a dialogue with the seven local authorities and projects, analysing and comparing the effects of the various ways of engaging the public. Researchers, climate officers and local people also met twice a year for seminars at which they exchanged knowledge about opportunities for and solutions generated by local authority climate initiatives.


The results showed the positive impact of community climate initiatives: Collective initiatives proved more effective than ones aimed at individuals – both in terms of long-lasting commitment and in relation to achieving quantifiable reductions in individual carbon footprints:

  • In Herning, the village of Studsgård reduced its CO2 consumption by 22 tonnes in the period 2008–2012 (approximately one tonne per household).
  • In Ballerup, the 20 families who participated in the “Climate Family Project” achieved an approx. 25% reduction in their carbon footprint in 1–2 years.
  • In Copenhagen, the housing association AB Søpassagen met its target and became carbon-neutral, albeit by purchasing CO2 quotas.

Based on these outcomes, the project compiled an online toolbox of community-based project descriptions and manuals for initiatives. Klimakonsulenten (The Climate Consultant) is available from the KL website, and is now used by local authority climate officers.

In Middelfart, working with the CIDEA researchers helped us to develop some of the tools we use in the council’s climate work. This has helped refine the way we communicate with local people, for example. It has also helped us to establish networks with other local authorities and energy companies, as well as partnerships to promote energy-efficient renovations of the housing stock. Working with the University’s researchers has also been a great help in pushing climate issues higher up the council agenda and embedding them in the council’s strategy work. Middelfart remains one of the climate frontrunners in Denmark.

Morten Mejsen Westergaard, Climate Manager, Middelfart Council

For local-authority climate officers, working with CIDEA was a form of continuing education, an idea further developed in a new anthropological research project. In addition, a number of external stakeholders e.g. in the regions, ministries and agencies, NGOs and think tanks, also benefited from knowledge generated by the project, which has informed lectures, meetings and conferences such as “Communicating the Obvious”, organised by the University of Copenhagen and the EU Commission in 2013.

Further research

In the wake of the CIDEA project, Jens Hoff and Quetin Gausset are now working on a new research project, “Collective Movements and Pathways to Sustainable Societies” (COMPASS). The aim is to identify how people arrive at social norms and collective action in the environment/climate field, and account for the role of communities in changing environmental behaviour. The research focuses on the impact of eco-communities, eco-food groups and organisations that combat waste of food and resources.

COMPASS has received a grant of DKK 6.2 million from the Velux Foundation over a three-year period (2017–2020). It is based in a new research centre for sustainability at the Faculty of Social Sciences – Centre for Sustainability and Society.

Together with Professor of Economics and climate expert Peter Birch Sørensen, Jens Hoff is also working on devising a method of calculating “green national accounts” for Denmark, which will help politicians assess the consequences of political decisions. They expect to complete work on the Green GDP in 2020.

The knowledge generated by the project is now being used by the general public and by local authorities in the form of:

The researchers involved in the CIDEA project:

  • Professor Jens Hoff, Department of Political Science, UCPH
  • Quentin Gausset, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, UCPH
  • Bjarne Vestergaard Strobel, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Section for Environmental Chemistry and Physics, UCPH
  • Anders Eriksen, Danish Hydraulic Institute
  • Tove Boon, Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), UCPH
  • The project also involved six PhD researchers and a number of master’s thesis students.

More about the CIDEA project:

  • Ran from 2010–2014
  • Based on an analysis of 12–15 public and/or private climate projects in seven local authorities
  • DKK 10.9 million grant from the Innovation Fund.
  • Read Altinget’s coverage of Jens Hoff’s book Klimaets Kommunale Tilstand (State of the climate in local authorities).


Citizen Driven Environmental Action, Hoff, Jens & Gausset, Quentin, The Journal of Transdisciplinary Environmental Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 2013.