Advancing sustainability: using smartphones to study environmental behavior in a field-experimental setup

Tracking #: 537-1517

Responsible editor: 

Thomas Chadefaux

Submission Type: 

Position Paper


Ecological sustainability is the defining challenge of our time. Here we suggest a methodological approach that could help to investigate how environmental behavior (transport behavior, energy consumption, food consumption, goods consumption, wasting) dilemmas can be overcome on an individual level in real life by using smartphones to collect daily behavioral data in a field-experimental setup. Previous related studies are reviewed and we discuss how the boundaries of what can be done with smartphones for data collection and experimental purposes can be pushed further to allow for complex behavioral studies. Results from a pilot study are presented to discuss the feasibility and potential of this approach. The pilot shows that studying social dilemma behavior via smartphones is feasible and has potential value as an behavioral intervention tool.


Supplementary Files (optional): 

Previous Version: 


  • Reviewed

Data repository URLs: 

Date of Submission: 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Date of Decision: 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Nanopublication URLs:



Solicited Reviews:



I'm not familiar enough with smartphone softwares and environmental studies to really know if this is significant or feasible. Most studies I've seen in ecology use spatial modeling. Seems like the smartphone things would be hard to use in the real world, especially in remote places.

Meta-Review by Editor

Overall, the reviewers do not make a unanimous recommendation at this time. However, in my opinion the paper has the potential to be of considerable interest to many readers. As such, I would like to conditionally accept your paper, subject to some changes. I will not send the revised version out again for review, but please submit a short memo outlining how you have addressed the issues outlined above.

1. Reviewer #3 suggests some improvement in how the methodology is presented and structured. I agree and suggest that you pay close attention to how this section is organized.

2. The pilot study is presented as an illustration of the basic methodology, which is fine. But you spent a long time discussing details of the setup, yet at the same time (correctly) dismiss your ability to draw any causal inferences given the limitations of the experimental design. I would therefore suggest that you make better use of the appendix to relegate some of the more procedural aspects, and instead further emphasize the practical setup of the experiment; what it means for students aspiring to use this method; and some of the pitfalls and difficulties that they are likely to encounter.

3. On Fig. 1 it is not clear to me where the first week ends, or whether the results from the first week are included at all.

4. Fig. 1: Are the differences between these values significant (means with overlapping CIs may still be significantly different)?

5. The style and flow could be improved throughout the paper. E.g., pay particular attention to lengthy sentences, run-ons, the use of “etc.”

Thomas Chadefaux (

Camera Ready Version

Dear Thomas,

thanks for your feedback. I have submitted now the camera-ready version, including a response to comments. There is one issue, the name of the second author is Luzzatti not Luzatti. I had it wrong when submitting the paper for the first time and since then was not able to change it. Is there a way to correct it, please?

Many thanks!

Best wishes,


Name changed

Thanks! The last name of your second author is corrected.



The conditions for acceptance are now satisfied. We look forward to seeing it published soon!