Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Environmental behaviour

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Environmental behaviours:
How can people be motivated to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviours?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Coastal area environment

In more recently times the terms ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘living green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ have all become widely known and sought after entities. To be ‘environmentally friendly’ is to act in way that results with minimal or no harm to the environment or ecosystem. There is copious research and discussions on environmentally friendly behaviour, however many people in society do not act in ways that are sustainable for the environment. This chapter will discuss motivation theories and techniques that can be implemented into practices that will lead to healthier existence for the environment and our societies.

Setting the scene and living green[edit | edit source]

Why it is important to be environmentally friendly?[edit | edit source]

Earth Western Hemisphere

Our environment, as Fisher et al. (2007) describes, is a functioning life support system for every organism within it. All of our actions have an effect on the ecosystem and in order to sustain the ecosystem it is vital that our behaviours' are environmentally friendly. An ecosystem demonstrates how all of the organisms in the environment are dependent on another organisms’ features and this is inclusive of humans. Sustaining our environment is directly linked to sustaining and enhancing our own lives (Fisher et al., 2007). Fien (2011) states it is important to sustain the environment, as disruption to the structure will alter the current environmental productions and will most likely have negative consequences to our lives. To behave in a way that is environmentally friendly, society is likely to see long-term viability for not only ecological systems, but also social and economic systems (Fien, 2011). The interconnected systems emphases the importance of environment sustainability and its relation to a functioning existence for society.

Health concerns Chopra and Kanji (2011) affirm that environmental health is a global concern, and humans are significantly involved in both the roles of destroyer and victim. Pollution, which is created by unstoppable forces such as urbanization, is contaminating water, air and land. This pollution is putting people at serious health risks, especially those of developing countries (Chopra & Kanji, 2011). The example of urbanisation demonstrates the pollution of air with the increase of vehicles on the roads, the pollution of water with the increase of wastage and incorrect disposal and the promotion of unhealthy diets with physical inactivity. The consequences of urbanisation can easily create environmental hazards and the development of a wide range of diseases and health problems for societies.

Motivation types on environmentally-friendly behaviours[edit | edit source]

Australian National University Solar Concentrator

In motivating people to become more environmentally friendly the underlying factors that entice an individual to make a change should be targeted. Vansteenkiste (2008) describes one’s environmental extrinsic motivation as the behaviour that is driven by external rewards, such as money, praise or fame. The motivation is from a source external of the individual (Vansteenkiste, 2008). Despite the materialised need for an external force, extrinsic motivation can be used as a tool to promote an individual’s willingness to engage in environmentally friendly behaviour. Intrinsic motivation however, as descibed by Goldsmith and Dhar (2013), states this is a motivation type developed from within the individual as is usually influenced by ones' passions. An intrinsic motivation is noted to have the most beneficial long-term effects for environmental sustainability.

Extrinsic incentives People are faced with challenges every day that require effort and persistence to successfully complete. An incentive is an external event or object that entices an individual to act towards or retract from a particular action or behaviour (Vansteenkiste, 2008). Goldsmith and Dhar, 2013 research demonstrates that incentives enhance task motivation, these incentives may be negatively or positively influencing. Goldsmith and Dhar (2013) study demonstrated that an individual is more likely to be motivated when the incentive is going to have a negative effect rather then a positive effect upon them. The use of incentives can be used to motivate environmentally friendly behaviour, as the examples demonstrate below.

Table 1 Positive and Negative Incentives based on Krass (2013)

Negative Incentives Positive Incentives
The introduction of an environmental tax would be a negative incentive for an individual. A tax on wastage disposal may motivate people into recycling. To avoid the environmental tax, an individual would recycle their waste, which ultimately has them behaving in an environmentally friendly way. A positive incentive would be the benefits of the current fixed cost subsidies and consumer rebate. The solar energy rebate for example is a positive motivation incentive used by the Australian government that allows the consumers to engage in environmentally friendly behaviour in return for lower energy use and in some cases a money reward.

Are your environmentally friendly behaviours due to intrinsic or extrisic motivations?[edit | edit source]

Activity 1[edit | edit source]


Question 1: Your local government has developed a recycling competition which offers a money reward for those who can correctly recycle all of their household waste for a month. At the end of the month when the money reward is subtracted would you be likely to continue with recycling?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Question 2: After the government recycling competition has ended, what do you feel the most pleasure from?

  1. The satisfaction of helping the environment
  2. The money reward

Question 3: If the competition did not have the money reward incentive would you be likely to still participate in the competition?

  1. Yes
  2. No

The quiz above was designed to test whether your motivations were intrinsic or extrinsic. If your answers were more prominently the choices of response 1 then this displaying intrinsic motivation. If your answers were more prominently the choices of the response 2 you are more influenced by extrinsic motivations.

Theories of motivation and how these can be used to enhance pro-environmental behaviour[edit | edit source]

A girl scout volunteer shows her pride in planting this tree

Goal Framing Theory[edit | edit source]

What is the Goal Framing Theory[edit | edit source]

The goal framing theory (Lindenberg & Steg, 2007, Lindenberg & Steg, 2013) suggests that human perception, thinking and decisions are developed due to the influences of goals. Lindenberg and Steg (2007) suggest that a goal ‘frame’ is the structure that processes information and results with the acts of the according behaviour. The ‘framing’ or development of a goal demonstrates how goals are dependent on context and can adapt depending on the situation (Lindenber and Steg, 2007). The development of goals may motivate people into behaving more environmentally friendly. Lindenberg (2013) identified three major goal types that are proposed in the goal framing theory. These goal types include:

  • Hedonic Goals
  • Gain Goals
  • Norm Goals

These three major goals have been related to ways that would motivate environmentally friendly behaviour. Goal framing is what directs an individuals motivation, however underlying influences such as knowledge, attitudes and situational circumstances are also dependent factors (Lindenberg, 2013).

How can we use goals to motivate environmentally friendly behaviour?[edit | edit source]

In regards to environmental behaviour, Stern (2000) suggests that our societies current goals for sustainability are due to extrinsic motivations. Individuals’ are likely to act more environmentally friendly because of non-environmental concerns such as the desire to save money or the desire for comfort (Stern, 2000). Developing environmentally friendly goals can lead to an individual developing a motivation,as Lindenberg & Steg (2013) state that when an individual is in peruse of a goal, their train of thought, the information they are sensitive too and action alternatives will all be effected.

The three main goal types[edit | edit source]

The Hedonic goal

The hedonic goal peruses an individual to move towards pleasurable consequences and away from pain (Higgins, 2006). Lindenberg and Steg (2013) explain this theory as an individual motivation to feel good at the present time. A study by Smith (1994) found a relationship between hedonic goal and environmentally friendly behaviours. The research demonstrated that people were more likely to behave environmentally friendly when the outcomes were personally enhancing rather then if the outcome was to meet moral and societal norms. Smith (1994) study emphasised this effect when the behaviours became more difficult. The hedonic goal demonstrates how we can use incentives of pleasure and satisfaction to motivate people into behaving more environmentally friendly.

The Gain Goal

Etienne (2010) describes the gain goal motivation is generally tied with the preservation or increase of one’s resources. Lindenberg and Steg (2013) suggest the gain goal is in conjunction with the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1985). The gain goal framework suggests that attitudes can be motivated into the willingness to act environmentally friendly if the individual believe there will be a positive consequences for themselves (Lindenberg and Steg, 2013). Ajzen (2011) theory of planned behaviour proposes that an individual is initially motivated by self-interest and that decisions are weighed between cost and personal benefits. The gain goal motivation can be used for environmentally friendly benefits such as choice of travel, recycling, energy use and water use. When the benefits exceed the costs of the behaviour an individual is likely to engage in pro-environment behaviour, this demonstrates a ‘gain’ (Lindenberg and Steg, 2013). To motivate people into environmentally friendly behaviours, according to the gain goal framework, an individuals best interested must be targeted. A practical example would be providing people with feedback about their energy use and the financial costs associated with it. A method such an energy consumption feedback will target an individuals resource awareness, which will possibly entice an individual to lower their energy consumption and too engage in environmentally friendly behaviours.

The normative goal

The normative goal is summarised by Etienne (2010) as an individuals motivation to ‘act appropriately’. Lindenberg and Stg (2013) relate the normative goal to sustainable behaviours by stating the goal frame suggests that an individual will act in a pro-environmentally manner without the influences to personal gain or cost, that they are only a secondary issue. Lindenberg (1992) defines it as a motivate that is due to the pressures of social norms. The normative goal frame is linked to long-term issues and the control of passions. According to Dawes (1980) it is important that people understand and evaluate societal issues because then moral, normative and selfless will influence behaviour. The normative goal frame thus suggests motivations are more prominent when people have a better understanding of environmental issues. Lindenberg and Steg (2013) supports idea of motivation as they demonstrated people whose concerns of environmental sustainability are high are concerned with environmental consequences, whereas those who have low concerns for the environment are likely to be focus on their personal outcomes. The normative goal framework demonstrates the need for the develop of knowledge in society, as the intrinsic motivation with this framework will have the most influential long-term outcome.

Sustainable development

Linderberg and Steg (2013) propose that the motivations from these three frameworks of goals can work together and play a vital role in promoting environmentally friendly behaviour. In the interests of an individual, it is most beneficial to act with intentions to better ones’ self however these advantages have been proven to only have short term advantages. To act in a pro-environmental way, with normative framed goal, society will have long-term benefits (Linderberg and Steg, 2013). A study conducted by Brandon and Lewis (1999) found that both environmental concerns and cost reductions are the most motivating factors that influence energy conservation. As these results demonstrate and as Linderberg and Steg (2013) suggest environmental behaviour results from multiple forms of motivation. Each of the three framing goals can motivate an individual to act in particular pro-environmental ways, however normative framed goal motivation is best for long-term environment benefits.

Self Determination Theory[edit | edit source]

The Self Determination Theory (SDT) is a macro theory of human motivation and provides insight to what is required for personal growth and psychological needs (Darner, 2012). SDT suggests that individuals are born with three basic psychological needs, these are autonomy, competence and relatedness.

Basic Psychological Needs[edit | edit source]

  • Competence: Is the need to control the outcome and have comprehensive knowledge.
  • Relatedness:Is the need to interact, have connections and experience caring for others
  • Autonomy:Is the need to govern one’s self and be at harmony with one’s integrated self

By satisfying these psychological needs an individual can reach optimal performance, well-being and development (Deci & Ryan, 2000). SDT suggests that human behaviours are regulated in different ways and ultimately develop motivational types, these regulations can be seen below.

  1. Amotivation: When there is no impulse to behave in a particular way
  2. External regulation: When in individuals’ behaviour is due to an external force, such as avoiding punishment or obtaining a reward.
  3. Introjected regulation: Causes an individuals’ behaviour to be linked to one’s self esteem, so the behaviours are performed to avoid guilt or shame.
  4. Integrated behaviour: The behaviour has been integrated into a person’s identity, so the individual feels as though the behaviour arises from the self.
  5. Intrinsically regulated: The pleasure that the behaviour provides is developed within the self.

Self Determination Theory motivating environmentally friendly behaviours[edit | edit source]

The SDT proposes that people can be motivated to perform environmentally friendly behaviours at different levels of self-determination (Darner, 2012). It is when an individual is motivated autonomously that they are most self-determined. Research has demonstrated that self-determined motivational types that encourage acting pro-environmentally are the most related to the actual pro-environmental behaviours, such as recycling, conserving resources, purchasing environmentally-friendly products and general environmental behaviours (Groot & Steg, 2010).

Research[edit | edit source]

Groot and Steg (2010) research demonstrated that if respondents were had a stronger sense of self-determination that they were likely to follow through with actions. People who were extrinsic motivated, did perform some low cost behaviours, however they were unlikely to partake in more difficult behaviours. SDT suggests that extrinsic motivated people have low self-determined motivation, and thus the unwillingness to act environmentally friendly without reward. SDT has shown the best way to motivate people into acting environmentally friendly to target to strengthen introjected regulations and avoid or weaken amotivation and external regulations (Groot & Steg, 2010).

Environmental education[edit | edit source]

Vansteenkiste, Lens and Deci (2006) research demonstrated that intrinsic motivated goals are more effective to conceptual learning and persistence compared to extrinsic motivated goals when it comes to acting pro-environmental. The promotion of intrinsic goal and downplay of extrinsic goals can be obtained by educating about environmental issues, which ultimately creates an awareness and gives people a more involved understanding. A more involved understanding will influence individuals’ psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness, thus developing intrinsic motivations.

Noun project 6396

Vansteenkiste (2013) study demonstrated through the development of an educational program that extrinsic motives undermined task enjoyment, personal valuation of a learning activity, conceptual learning, and persistence when compared to intrinsic motives. These results were consistent irrespective of individuals’ own intrinsic and extrinsic goals or their intrinsic and extrinsic task perception. The results suggest creating intrinsic goals through education is possible even for individuals who place a high importance to extrinsic goals. This research places a strong emphasis should be placed on educating people about environmental issues.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Carbon footprint representation

Our environment is our life support system, it feeds us with oxygen, water, food and the means for shelter. It is absolutely essential that we act and motivate others to act in a way that will sustain our environment. The two form of motivation types, intrinsic and extrinsic, can both be useful is promoting environmentally friendly behaviour. SDT in relation to environmental issues demonstrate while an extrinsic goal pursuit may demonstrate some environmentally friendly behaviour, the satisfaction an individual will experience is likely to be unsuccessful and short-lived. This lack of extrinsic motivation satisfaction is because the goals are not directly fulfilling the psychological needs of an individual, as they would from intrinsic motivated goals. Intrinsic motivation will be the most successful influence on developing individuals’ goals into effective long lasting changes for environmentally-friendly behaviours. To gain a intrinsic motivation a passion and/or genuine concern must first be developed. To create awareness and an in depth understanding an individual must be educated about the consequences and issues. Education is the underlying link to the development of intrinsic feeling, thus emphasizing its importance. To be ‘environmentally friendly’ is a specific lifestyle choice and the only way to reduce an impact on our environment, this concludes that our behaviours are literally a matter of life and death.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Ajzen, I. (1985). From intentions to actions: A theory of planned behavior. In J. Kuhl & J. Beckman (Eds.), Action-control: From cognition to behavior (pp. 11–39). Heidelberg: Springer.

Ajzen, I. (2011). The theory of planned behaviour: Reactions and reflections. Psychology and Health, 26, 1113-1127.

Brandon, G., & Lewis, A. (1999). Reducing household energy consumption: A qualitative and quantative field study. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 19, 75-85.

Chopra, P. & Kanji, G. (2011). Environmental health: Assessing risks to society. Total Quality Management, 22, 461-489.

Darner, R. (2012). An empirical test of self-determination theory as a guide to fostering environmental motivation. Environmental Education Research, 18, 463-472.

Dawes, R. (1980). Social Dilemmas. Annual Review of Psychology, 24, 169-193.

Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contempory Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67.

Etienne, J. (2010). The Impact of Regulatory Policy on Individual Behaviour: A Goal Framing Theory Approach. [The London School of Economics and Political Science]. Retrieved from

Fien, J. (2001) Education for Sustainability. Australia Conservation Foundation [Australia Association for Environmental Education]. Retrieved from

Fischer, J., Manning, A., Steffen, W., Rose, D., Daniel, K., Felton, A., Garnett, S., Gilna, B., Heinsohn, R., Lindenmayer, D., MacDonald, B., Mills, F., Newell, B., Reid, J., Robin, L., Sherren, K., & Wade, A. (2007). Mind the Sustainability Gap. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 22, 621-624.

Goldsmith, K. & Dhar, R. (2013) Negativity Bias and Task Motivation: Testing the Effectiveness of Positively Verse Negatively Framed Incentives. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 1-10. Retrieved from

Groot, J., & Steg, L. (2010). Relationships between value orientations, self-determined motivational types and pro-environmental behavioural intentions. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 368-378.

Higgins, T. (2006). Value From Hedonic Experience and Engagment. Psychology Review, 113, 439-460. Krass, D., Nedorezov, T., & Ovchinnikov, A. (2013). Environmental Taxes and the Choice of Green Technology. Production and Operations Management, 22, 1035-1055.

Lindenberg, S., & Steg, L. (2007). Normative, Gain and Hedonic Goal Frames Guiding Environmental Behaviour. Journal of Social Issues, 63, 117-137.

Lindenberg, S., & Steg, L. (2013). Goal-framing Theory and Norm-Guided Environmental Behaviour. In H. van Trijp (ed.), Encouraging Sustainable Behaviour (37-54). New York: Psychology Press.

Stern, P. (2000) Toward a Coherent Theory of Environmentally Significant Behaviour. Journal of Social Issues, 56, 407-424.

Schneider, H., Livits, I., & Schneider, D. (2013). Sustainable Learning for Sustainability. Journal of Organisational Transformation and Social Change, 10, 124-147.

Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., & Deci, E. (2006). Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Goal Contents in Self-Determination Theory: Another Look at the Quality of Academic Motivation. Educational Psychologist, 41, 19-31.

Vansteenkiste, M., Soenens, B., Timmermans, T., Lens, W., & Van de Broeck, A. (2008). Does Extrinsic Goal Framing Enhance Extrinsic Goal-Oriebted Individuals’ Learning and Performance? An Experimental test of the Match Perspective Verses Self-Determination Theory. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 387-397.