Follow Jessica on Twitter @CrossAndLeaves or follow the Five Leaf Eco-Awards @fiveleafeco

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Behaviour Change for Sustainability - Who’s Green?

"Some people claim that green issues are the concern primarily of rich, educated, left-leaning liberals – the only ones who can afford the luxury of such considerations. But do these claims stand up to scrutiny? This months article takes a look at the research into some of the demographic characteristics of those who demonstrate concern about the environment.

The results for age have been mixed over the years, but recent studies seem to reveal that young people are less likely then their elders to engage in pro-environmental behaviours. This trend has been observed in many countries, including China, Australia and the United Kingdom. One explanation may be that young people are more focused on getting ahead and establishing themselves financially, and do not have the “luxury” of worrying about less immediate concerns.

One question likely to result in dinner-table discussions is that of whether men or women more likely to do their bit for the environment? The research is mixed, but the most common finding is that women express greater care and concern for environmental issues than men. In terms of behaviour, they are more likely to undertake everyday activities which benefit the environment, such as recycling and making green purchasing decisions. This has usually been put down to the effects of socialisation and the established gender role of women as more caring and nurturing. Men do, however, shine when it comes to activism and involvement in environmental issues outside the home. They are also more likely to read more about environmental issues.

An interesting piece of research by Paul Stern and colleagues attempted to explain this gender difference and identified a pattern whereby women had stronger beliefs that environmental issues were a threat to welfare, security and health, which explained their propensity to act in an environmentally friendly way. Where those beliefs did not exist, the gender difference was absent. The authors conclude that “when women are more active on environmental issues, it is because of an increased likelihood to make connections between environmental conditions and their values, rather than because they have different values structures than men”. This finding suggests that making it easier for people to make the link between green issues and their own values is essential for sustainability promoters.

There is also evidence to suggest that parents are more involved in environmental issues than those without children. A major study in New South Wales, Australia, found that those with children were not only more concerned about the environment, but were also more likely to undertake green behaviours. They were, however, less likely to nominate action on the environment as a priority for the state government.

In terms of income level, there does not appear to be a strong relationship between income and concern for environmental issues. However, some interesting findings have emerged in studies comparing the attitudes toward sustainability between countries with differing levels of wealth. Diekmann and Franzen found that people in poor countries have similar levels of concern toward the environment as those in wealthy countries. However, people in the wealthy countries were more likely to rank environmental protection as a high priority for action. This suggests that, while concerns are shared, wealthy nations are in a better position to do something about it, and people are more willing to see resources allocated to dealing with the issues.

The findings regarding wealth, and to some extent age, suggest that Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” has some relevance to the study of environmental attitudes and action. Maslow’s theory suggests that people need to meet their lower order needs such as survival and security before they can focus on high order needs such as achievement and morality. It appears that environmental issues have been positioned as a higher order need, something which can be focused on once the necessities of life are taken care of. For people in poor nations, the priority may be getting food on the table. For younger people it may be fitting into the crowd, establishing an identity, or starting a career. One of the challenges for sustainability advocates is to “reposition” environmental issues as lower order needs on the Maslow hierarchy. While climate change is being touted as the “moral challenge of our time”, it may struggle to get traction. According to the theory, morality occurs in the self-actualisation stage, something which people going about their everyday business are unlikely to pay much attention to. But if sustainability is accepted as necessary for our survival, wellbeing and security, then it may start to capture the focus of a larger percentage of society and get the action it deserves and demands."

This article was sourced from Awake -
Awake provides psychology-based services to support the development of sustainable behaviour in individuals, groups and organisations. Visit for more info

No comments:

Post a Comment

Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+