Welcome to the September 2008 Wake-Up Call, Awake’s monthly newsletter for research and news about behaviour change for sustainability.
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In this edition of Wake-up Call…
· Feature Article – Why do we care?
· Awake in “The Age” – What Makes a Green-Collar Worker?
· 60 seconds with… Mae Ercolani from EPA Victoria
· Interesting Article of the Month – Forecasting Psychological Consequences of Car Use Reduction
· Exercise of the Month – Why Do You Care?
After scanning the room at a recent sustainability function, a friend observed that “greenies certainly look and smell a lot nicer these days, don’t they?” It’s true that not all people interested in sustainability are tree-hugging hippies, especially as green issues become more mainstream.
There are, in fact, a variety of reasons why people are dedicated to working towards a more sustainable future. A key researcher in the area, Stern, Dietz & Kalof identify 3 distinct categories of environmental concern. The first of these is an egoistic orientation, which is based on the implications to oneself of environmental degradation. Someone with this concern may say “I am worried that sea level rises may affect the value of my coastal property”. The second category identified is altruistic orientation, which relates to a concern for society as a whole. These people might be concerned for the impact of climate change on world poverty levels. Finally, biospheric orientation relates to a concern for all forms of life. This is likely to result in being worried about species loss for instance.
It is important to note that these types of environmental concern are not unrelated, and indeed many people are concerned for all three reasons to some extent. It could also be argued that they are not mutually exclusive concerns. For instance, many believe that a loss of biodiversity will upset fragile eco-systems, resulting in a dire consequences for society, which could well affect their weekly food bill. But it also appears that, for most of us, one of these concerns is at the forefront of our minds more than others when we think about environmental issues (see Exercise of the Month below).
Research into the sources of these different orientations has led Schultz and others to conclude that they are largely a result of different values that we hold. For instance, unsurprisingly, those with a self-centred set of values are more likely to have an egoistic focus in their concern for environmental problems. Their primary concern is “how will this affect me”?
The next question is, how does this relate to our behaviour? Theoretically, one would expect that we would carry out a behaviour if we thought it would protect something we value highly. However, the results of research into this area are not so clear cut. Stern’s team found that the type of environmental concern which people displayed did not make any difference to their willingness to engage in political action to protect the environment. However, people were more likely to accept paying taxes to protect the environment if they felt that they would be personally affected (an egoistic orientation). Other researchers have found that a biospheric orientation is a fairly consistent predictor of pro-environment behaviour, whereas mixed results have been found for the other orientations. One possible conclusion from this finding is that a concern for the natural environment is the most self-less orientation and therefore likely to result in behaviours which can sometimes require some sacrifice and inconvenience.
So, why does any of this matter? Some would argue that it does not matter why people act to protect the environment, as long as they get on board. This argument is often extended to the motive for an organisation to become involved in environmental initiatives. Bob Willard, author of the Sustainability Advantage and other books, is one who draws the distinction between companies who get involved for compliance or financial reasons, and those who do it because it is a passion, and the right thing to do. His advice is not to worry too much about why they are doing it, as long as they do it.
However, sustainability advocates can benefit from understanding the reasons why people may be concerned about the environment, in order to tailor their message. For instance, if a group voices concern for the environment because the drought is costing jobs in the agricultural sector, then efforts to restrict carbon emissions must show how this will benefit society and the economy, not just polar bears. Any benefit offered must take into consideration the orientation which this group is operating through.
While techniques such as surveys and market research can assist in identifying the predominant reason why people care about the environment, the key message is that sustainability advocates need to consider all forms of environmental motive in designing their communications. The more people feel like “they are speaking to me”, the more they will enrol in the changes being requested of them.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE?
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A recent Environment & Sustainability Careers feature in The Age newspaper included an article by Tim Cotter which looked at the characteristics which attract people to pursuing a career in the green field. The feature is not online at The Age, but you can read the article at www.awake.com.au/greencollar.html
What first got you focused on sustainability?
It’s been a
long-term thing, so there is no real point at which I got focused on it. Traveling has raised my awareness of it,
What is the sustainable choice you have recently made of which you are most proud?
short showers. I’ve been much more aware
of this since moving from the
What is a less sustainable choice that you are not so proud of?
Going to the grocery store and ending up with more packaging than I would prefer. Sometimes it is a real challenge to keep aware and educated about the environmental impact of products.
Forecasting Psychological Consequences of Car Use Reduction: A Challenge to an Environmental Psychology of Transportation.
Garling T , Garling A & Loukopoulos P (2002) Applied Psychology: An International Review, 51 (1), 90–106
What is it about?
This study looks at a future where various global factors result in a significant reduction in private car use. While most analyses focus on economic and infrastructure implications, this study provides a prediction of the psychological consequences for people.
What did they find?
A significant aspect of the way we have organised our life is dependent on private car use – where we live, what leisure activities we pursue, the nature of our relationships. If we were to experience significant reduction in car use, we would probably leave the house less due to the longer time it takes to get places on public transport. Our leisure activities would need to change, and we would need to start cooperating with others more in order to car pool etc. The psychological consequences forecasted by the authors include the stress from perceived loss of control and autonomy. However benefits are also noted, including the reduction in noise pollution and car accidents.
What can we take from this?
Following on from the feature article above, here are a couple of questions to get you thinking about your primary motivation for protecting the environment.
1. Complete this sentence: “It is really important that we act to protect the environment, because….”
2. Thinking about your interest in protecting the environment, which of the following comes closest to your primary reason…
a. Because I rely upon a healthy environment for the wellbeing and prosperity of myself and my family
b. Because the ability of current and future generations to experience life as we know it is under threat
c. Because of the threat to biodiversity and potential extinction of many species
If you answered A, this may indicate an egoistic orientation, Answer B suggests an altruistic orientation, while C equates to a biospheric orientation.
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!
Awake provides psychology-based services to support the development of sustainable behaviour in individuals, groups and organisations. Visit www.awake.com.au for more info
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© Awake 2008