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

Tracking #: 518-1498

Responsible editor: 

Thomas Maillart

Submission Type: 

Position Paper


Ecological sustainability is the defining challenge of our time. This paper suggests a new methodological approach that could help to investigate how environmental behaviour (transport behaviour, energy consumption, food consumption, goods consumption, wasting) dilemmas can be overcome on an individual level in real life by using smartphones to collect daily behavioural data in a field-experimental setup. Presented are results from a pilot study to discuss the feasibility and potential of this approach. After the first week of data collection without any intervention, the 20 study participants were randomly assigned to two field-experimental treatment groups. In the social monitoring experimental group study participants monitored each other’s environmental performance and in the behavioural targeting treatment group study participants’ past behaviour was analysed to provide individualised tips how they can improve their environmental performance. The paper shows how the collected data could be used to better understand how people make environmental behavioural decisions, what can positively affect this decision–making in real life and how the different environmental behaviours (e.g. transport behaviour vs. energy consumption) interact with each other in real life.


Supplementary Files (optional): 


  • Reviewed

Data repository URLs: 

The University of Leeds Research Data Leeds registry would publish the pilot study data under the condition of paper publication. Since this position paper refers only to a small pilot study dataset other third-party public repositories will have unfortunately no interest in publishing this data.

Date of Submission: 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Date of Decision: 

Monday, November 6, 2017



Solicited Reviews:

1 Comment

Meta-Review by Editor

The 2 reviewers and myself found the approach to measure behaviors towards sustainable development definitely original and interesting. Arguably, the problem tackled is a difficult and important one.

However, at this point, the paper does not warrant solid methodological and empirical results, which could help validate the approach. The manuscript was submitted as a position paper. We can also not accept this manuscript as such, because it does not bring a clear perspective on how the approach is significantly different from other methodologies, with an assessment of its comparative strengths and weaknesses.

We certainly encourage you to push further either by strengthening methodological aspects, data collection and results (i.e., research paper), or by providing a better perspective on how this approach is novel and differentiate from other approaches (i.e., position paper). We encourage you to pursue you effort and to resubmit then an improved version to the Journal of Data Science.

Thomas Maillart (0000-0002-5747-9927)