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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Behaviour Change for Sustainability - Does Knowledge Lead to Action?

"Much effort is made to educate people about green issues, and to provide them with the necessary information to take positive action to support the environment. It makes sense that, if people are not acting in a way which is beneficial to the environment, we need to reach them with more information and impress upon them the importance of playing their part. But does this work? If we are more knowledgeable about the issues, does that make us more likely to change? The answer to this question is of critical importance those program developers and policy-makers whose job it is to decide where the funding and effort goes for developing more environmentally sustainable communities.

The answer is not straightforward. There is evidence to suggest that environmental knowledge is one of the key determinants of whether or not we will act with the earths interests at heart. A 2007 review of 57 separate studies of pro-environmental behaviour found that “problem awareness” was one of a number of strong determinants of whether or not people took green actions, albeit an indirect one (more on that later). Likewise, an in-depth report by the University of Surrey (Motivating Sustainable Consumption) noted that “low awareness, inadequacy of information and lack of knowledge are cited over and again as obstacles to the uptake of recycling schemes, composting, ethical purchasing and so on” - supporting the idea that educating and informing people plays an important role in stimulating sustainable behaviour. One example is a recent investigation of Australian attitudes to climate change by Net Balance, which reported that “more than half of respondents are discouraged from further action in their daily life because they feel there is not enough information about which companies and products are better when it comes to global warming”. The latter studies in particular indicate that people report a lack of information to be the main barrier to action, although it is possible that this is merely offered as an excuse for inaction.

Is there any evidence to suggest that people are more likely to act once armed with the necessary information? Most researchers who have studied this area have concluded that the answer is “no”. Paul Stern, a leading researcher in this field, remarks in a 2005 review (downloadable pdf here) that “educating people, in the narrow sense of telling them which behaviors are environmentally beneficial, typically has little or no effect in the short term”. For instance, a study into attempts to promote water efficiency by Geller, Erickson & Buttram found that intensive education made no difference to water saved, and that the only intervention which worked was to install a lowflow showerhead – in other words, there was no behavioural change as a result of the education.

The inconclusive nature of the evidence with regard to the importance of environmental knowledge has led to more in-depth investigation as to the ­­type of information which impacts on behaviour. Obviously we need a basic level of information before we can take actions which are environmentally beneficial. For instance, we need to know what type of materials can be recycled, and what day the recycling bins should be put on the curb. This “concrete knowledge” is a more important predictor of green behaviour than more “abstract knowledge”, such as knowledge about greenhouse gas and carbon issues. Stern notes that “broader environmental education about how climate or ecosystems function may change behavior—public-sphere behavior, most likely—but this is a long-term process that has not been the subject of careful research”.

The other role which education undoubtedly plays is that of a trigger for us to take responsibility for our actions. The review of 57 studies mentioned above found that “problem awareness” does not in itself lead to behaviour directly. Rather, it acts as an important precursor to activate our sense of moral responsibility to act. Once we become aware of a problem, we are in a better position to take responsibility to fix it, although this responsibility is not a given. This finding underlines the importance of taking a multidimensional approach to behaviour change, one which combines education with other interventions to influence decisions and stimulate action.

So, in summary, the dissemination of information plays a crucial part in behaviour change for environmental sustainability by performing two roles. Firstly, it raises awareness of problems so that we can choose to take responsibility to act, and secondly, it provides us with the “how-to” education we need in order to guide our behaviour. However, when such information is not supported by additional behaviour change tactics, we are unlikely to see real change, and the resources invested are likely to be largely wasted."

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

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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+