Wake-Up Call
September 2007
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Welcome to Wake-up Call, Awakeís monthly newsletter for research and news about behaviour change for sustainability.
In this edition of Wake-up Call…

Feature Article - Responsibility & Power

Research Report - Awake Sustainability Attitudes Survey

Interesting Finding of the Month - We recycle because others are doing it. We re-use and reduce because we care.

Exercise of the Month - Are you Disconnected, Willing, a Shirker or in Action?

Feature Article - Responsibility & Power

The various factors which need to be in place for a person to act in an environmentally friendly way can be roughly divided into 2 areas - personal responsibility and personal power.

Personal responsibility refers to the acceptance of oneís role as part of the potential problem, and the potential opportunity. When we recognise that we are contributors to, say, global warming, and decide that it is up to us to do something about it, we have taken on personal responsibility.

Personal power refers to having the means to do something about it. Items which fall into this category include education, skills and access to resources. For instance, if we do not know where our nearest recycling depot is, we lack education. If there is not one in our town, we lack the resources. If we are finding it impossible to organise our time to get there, we may be lacking skills of time management or prioritisation. Note, lack of personal power can be either perceived or real. For instance, we may feel that public transport is too inadequate in our area to consider using it, while our neighbour believes it is just fine.

Both personal responsibility and personal power need to be present in order for us to act sustainably. If we care about our energy use, but do not have the power to do anything about it, our energy use does not decrease. Ditto if we could easily save energy, but donít feel that it is our responsibility.

If we plot responsibility and power along separate continuums, we get a figure like that below.

We can then identify 4 zones which sum up where people are at, depending on their level of personal responsibility and personal power.
  • Action: The first box is easy. When people are engaged and empowered to make a difference, they act accordingly.
  • The Disconnected: where people have neither the awareness not the means to act, they lack connection to the problem. This can be deliberate, heads-in-the-sand stuff, or genuine ignorance of the issues. "I donít know and I donít care  sums up this group.
  • The Willing: Where people have a high level of awareness and acceptance of their role in sustainability, but do not feel that they have the means to act, they can be termed as The Willing. These people are committed to doing something, if only they knew where to start, or could overcome the barriers to act. Again, this could be a physical barrier, such as lack of infrastructure, or a social barrier, such as a lack of education about options for action.
  • The Shirkers: Shirkers have everything they need to act sustainably, but lack the will. This is the domain of the deniers, the sceptics and the self-centred. Shirkers have yet to experience an awakening to their role in the worlds problems, or to accept their role in the solutions.

Do not be fooled into thinking that these are discrete categories into which we all fit neatly. In fact, each of us can exist in every one of these categories simultaneously, depending on the issue in question.

For instance, I have broken VCR in my cupboard, because nobody can tell me where to take it for recycling, and I refuse to send it to landfill. So on the VCR issue, I fit into the Willing category. Other Willingís include those who are desperate to lower their energy use, but suffer from living with housemates who do not share their commitment. These Willingís may feel they lack the influencing skills to move them into Action.

Furthermore I, like most people, have some guilty secrets which put me in the Shirker category - little conveniences and pleasures that I know are probably wrong, but get rationalised away. For instance, I still partake in meat eating, despite my knowledge that enough water to fill the Mediterranean Sea is involved in bringing that T-bone steak to my plate.

The key for eco-educators is to recognise which zone people are in on any given issue, and to choose an approach which will move them towards action. For instance, Shirkers do not need more information - they need something to stimulate their engagement. Conversely, The Willing are already there - they need some support, skills and resources to get into Action.

Part 2 of this article will share some tips on recognising where people are at, and provide some ideas to get them into action.

Research Report: Awake Sustainability Attitudes Survey

Awake recently conducted a pilot study into the impact of a number of attitudinal factors on pro-environmental behaviours. Key findings
  • The strongest predictor of pro-environmental behaviours was a sense of social responsibility, closely followed by a sense of personal control.
  • Those who "regularly examine my own beliefs and values  were significantly more likely to adopt sustainable behaviours than those who do not.
  • Those who do not "feel a strong responsibility to make a positive contribution to the community  are more likely to report that "sustainability comes at an unacceptable cost to me", and that "I find it difficult to make sustainability a priority in my actions".
  • A strong relationship exists between various pro-environmental behaviours (eg transport choices, packaging avoidance) . If you do one pro-environment thing, you are likely to do another.
  • When comparing self-rating of sustainability against actual frequency of sustainability behaviours, men were more likely than women to over-rate themselves.
The results of this preliminary research demonstrate the powerful role which psychological factors play in influencing our attitudes and behaviours towards sustainability. This has implications for environmental policy and education for sustainability. For instance, the strong relationship between pro-environment behaviours and a sense of personal control suggests that there is value in emphasising the capacity for individuals to make a difference, thus raising their perceived level of influence.

The correlation between various pro-environment behaviours also suggests the existence of a general "sustainability attitude  which influences behaviours in a number of settings. This further demonstrates the potential value of approaching sustainable development at an attitudinal level.

To read the full report click here

Interesting Research Finding of the Month

We recycle because others are doing it. We re-use and reduce because we care.
After analysing the predictors of recycling, re-use and reduction behaviours, UK researchers found that the main motivator of recycling is a belief that it is the socially acceptable thing to do. Meanwhile, the biggest determinant of re-use and waste reduction were somewhat deeper environmental values and beliefs.
(From Factors Influencing Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors, Environment and Behavior, July 2007)

Exercise of the Month

This monthís exercise uses the Responsibility and Power model presented in the feature article above. Looking at the model
  1. What is one sustainability issue that has you in the zone of the "Willing"? That is, you want to act, but you feel you are unable to. What action could you take to increase your power to act?
  2. What is one sustainability issue that has you in the zone of the ""Shirker"? This is, you know what you should be doing, but you donít. What is missing? What do you need to do to increase your level of responsibility and get into action?
  3. What is one sustainability issue that has you in the zone of the "Disconnected". That is, you donít know and you donít care. If this is too hard, then try to identify something that may have had you in the disconnected zone previously (but now you know and/or you care). What is/was missing? What do/did you need to do to increase your level of power and get into action?
  4. Now, give yourself a pat on the back, and identify one sustainability issue about which you are in Action!
The exercise of the month provides a tool to help you get engaged, inspired, aware and in action around sustainability. Feel free to use it on your own, with a friend, or in your work. If you do use it with others, please tell them where you got it!

About Awake

Awake provides psychology-based services to support the development of sustainable behaviour in individuals, groups and organisations. Visit
www.awake.com.au or more info

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