Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Environment-friendly behaviour motivation

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Environment-friendly behaviour motivation:
What motivates environment-friendly behaviour?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Symbol of recycling. The most common icon associated with being environment-friendly.

A report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the ongoing problem of climate change is now considered as a “code red for humanity” (IPCC Report: ‘Code Red’ for Human Driven Global Heating, Warns UN, 2021). Although natural occurrences and giant corporations are the prevalent factors to blame, several studies also attribute climate change to human behaviour (Barr, 2007; de Young, 1985; de Young, 1996). Lack of environment-friendly behaviour stems from people's lack of understanding of the motives behind this behaviour (de Young, 1985). Therefore, understanding the motivation behind environment-friendly behaviour using different psychological theories can be a helpful step in tackling environmental problems.

This chapter contributes to helping to resolve this global crisis by considering how people can become motivated to incorporate environment-friendly behaviour in their daily lives. Firstly, a background about environment-friendly behaviour is presented. Secondly, this chapter elaborates on the psychological theories that are commonly studied in explaining how to motivate environment-friendly behaviour. Finally, the role of external rewards in motivating environment-friendly behaviour is considered.

Focus questions:

  • What is environment-friendly behaviour?
  • What psychological theories can explain how environment-friendly behaviour is motivated?
  • How effective are external rewards in motivating environment-friendly behaviour?

Case Study

Britta is an environmental activist living in Canberra, who actively incorporates environmentally-friendly behaviours into her lifestyle. When she went back to her family's house in Brisbane for a holiday, she noticed that her family was not practising environment-friendly behaviour. Before she returns home again, she aims to motivate her family to incorporate environment-friendly behaviour in their lifestyle as well. However, she doesn't know how to go about doing this.

Environment-friendly behaviour[edit | edit source]

Environment-friendly behaviour is another term for pro-environmental behaviour, defined as the behaviours individuals partake in society that positively impacts the environment (Krajhanzl, 2010). There are various ways in which an individual can act environmentally-friendly, as long as their behaviour has a less harmful or even a nurturing impact on the environment. Table 1 contains examples of environment-friendly behaviours, which are categorised based on the ways they are executed. These behaviours may range from small steps that can be incorporated into everyday life to actions that involve and impact the community.

Table 1

Examples of environment-friendly behaviours

Categories Behaviours
Waste disposal Composting, recycling, not littering
Consumer behaviour Buying and using sustainable products, reducing red meat consumption, buying recycled products, reducing the use of harmful chemicals (e.g., ammonia, CFCs which can be found in aerosols), reducing the use of plastic
Conservation Turning off lights and appliances when not in use, conserving water
Community involvement Joining tree planting activities, attending environment education programs, advocating environmental awareness

Although it may seem that environment-friendly behaviours are easy to execute, individuals might still encounter barriers in the process of adapting to this lifestyle. The individual’s path towards becoming more environment-friendly may be hindered by contextual factors, which are barriers that are found in the individual’s surroundings such as their cultural background; their socioeconomic status; and the environment in which they live (Axon, 2017; Eisenack et al., 2014). Equally important, individuals may also encounter psychological barriers, in which their cognition, knowledge, and beliefs hinder them in doing environment-friendly behaviours (Gillford, 2011). It is important for individuals to identify these barriers so that they know which issue they need to resolve so that they can successfully incorporate environment-friendly behaviour into their lifestyle.

How environmentally-friendly are you?

Take this quiz [1] created by Deakin University to find out how environment-friendly your behaviours are.

Motivation for environment-friendly behaviour[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Spectrum of motives in self-determination theory

This section discusses three psychological theories that can be applied in explaining the motivation of environmentally-friendly behaviour: self-determination theory, self-efficacy, and values theory.

Self-determination theory[edit | edit source]

Self-determination theory is a concept developed by Deci and Ryan (1985) on their journey of studying intrinsic motivation, which is the motivation to execute a behaviour driven by internal rewards. According to this theory, the motivation of an individual differs in terms of quality and its source. Figure 2 illustrates the main claim of this theory, that motivation ranges on a spectrum from non-self-determined to self-determined. Amotivation, the most non-self-determined motive, is when individuals are not motivated to do a particular behaviour. On the other hand, the most self-determined motive, intrinsic motivation, is when individuals drive to do a behaviour comes from the satisfaction and pleasure they get from doing it (Baxter & Pelletier 2020).

Several studies claim that self-determined motives predict environment-friendly behaviour. Baxter and Pelletier (2020) examined the relationship between goals, motivation, and sustainable behaviour in a resource dilemma. In their study, they found a positive correlation between self-determined motives and pro-environmental behaviour. In other words, the more self-determined the individual's motives are, the more likely they are to perform environment-friendly actions. Seguin et al. (1999) also found comparable results in their study. Individuals who recycle because of their initiative and personal interest in the environment can also sustain recycling habits independently, without the help of extrinsic rewards.

Interested in finding out how these motives affect the execution of pro-environmental behaviour, Atkien et al. (2016) examined how controlled (non-self-determined) and autonomous (self-determined) motivation affects action towards the environment by looking at transportation behaviour. The main findings showed that perceived environmental competence on the frequency of easy to do environment-friendly behaviours via both types of motivation, but only autonomous motivation was a significant mediator for complex behaviours (Atkien et al., 2016)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. It can be interpreted from their study that intrinsic motivation helps people to persist in performing environment-friendly behaviour even when faced with obstacles. To support the claim of the indirect effects of motives in pro-environmental behaviours, a study also found that intangible motivations, such as the perception of environmental health risks, play an important role in environmental activism (Seguin et al., 1999).

Although extensive studies establish the relationship between self-determined motives and environment-friendly behaviour, further research needs to explore exactly how these motives affect pro-environmental behaviour. Future research could also take an interest in discovering how to effectively strengthen pro-environmental behaviour by targeting self-determined motives.

Self-efficacy[edit | edit source]

Self-efficacy is the belief in their capacity to perform a behaviour. According to Bandura (1977) a sense of self-efficacy involves one’s belief in their ability to control their motivation, behaviour, and environment. Although most of the studies in motivating environment-friendly behaviour are focused on self-determined motives, it is important to take note of self-efficacy when it comes to acting upon the behaviour.

Similar to self-determined motives, self-efficacy is found to affect pro-environmental behaviours positively. Numerous studies state that self-efficacy is a positive predictor of pro-environmental behaviour[factual?]. In terms of waste management behaviour, a study conducted by Chan (1998) into recycling in Hong Kong found that respondents' feelings about recycling and their actual participation in recycling were positively related. Equally important, self-efficacy was also found to indirectly affect an individual’s environmental behaviour through their media use (Huang 2016). These studies can conclude that self-efficacy can, directly and indirectly, affect the individuals’ environment-friendly behaviour.

In an attempt to discover how self-efficacy affects pro-environmental behaviour, Tabernero and Hernandez (2010) gathered self-reports of the localities in Cordoba, Spain, about the relationship of their self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation and their environmental behaviour. Their study found that through the ability to self-perceive effectively, self-efficacy can directly influence environmentally-friendly behaviour by increasing intrinsic motivation that then drives the behaviour (Tabernero & Hernandez, 2010). Comparable with this result, Wai Yoong et al. (2018) found that self-efficacy plays a crucial role in one's sense of self-confidence in their capability in contributing to the environment through behaviour. This results in pro-environmental engagement at a higher level.

Aside from having self-determined motives, it seems that having a strong sense of self-efficacy effectively facilitates the performance of environment-friendly behaviour. Regardless of what mechanisms we use to motivate ourselves, such as goals and incentives, if individuals don't believe they can act, even with great rewards, they will not do so and will not persevere (Bandura, 1997).

Values[edit | edit source]

Values are fundamental beliefs or principles that influence how attitudes and actions are shaped. They help decide what's important to individuals. With that, they form the basis for how one conducts themselves as well. Among several domains of values, Steg and de Groot (2012) identified two types of values from Schwartz’s (1992) Value Theory that are most involved in explaining environment-friendly behaviour. Biospheric value orientation refers to the notion that phenomena are evaluated based on their impact on ecosystems or the biosphere (Stern & Dietz, 1994). And hedonic values are centred on sensual gratification, entertainment, fantasy, playfulness, and other experiences of pleasure and entertainment (Khare, 2011).  

But how do values motivate the pro-environmental behaviour of an individual? Values are considered to be a stable disposition of an individual. Values influence the shaping of the attitudes and actions of an individual. Therefore, it is assumed that the effect of values on behaviour is mediated by more specific beliefs, attitudes, and norms.

Indeed, various studies showed that values primarily influence behaviour indirectly via behaviour-specific beliefs, attitudes, and norms (Karp, 1995; Schultz et al., 2005). Nguyen et al. (2016) examined how consumers’ biospheric values affect their pro-environmental behaviour by looking at their purchase behaviour of energy-efficient household appliances. The study finds that biospheric values enhance the environment-friendly purchase behaviour of consumers by improving their attitudes towards environmental protection, their subjective norms, and their sense of self-identity, and by reducing their perceptions of eco-friendly products.


1 Self-determined motives equipped with self-efficacy effectively motivates environment-friendly behaviour


2 Individuals are said to have a non-self-determined motive when their drive to do a behaviour comes from the satisfaction and pleasure they will get from doing it


3 Biospheric value orientation is centred on sensual gratification and other experiences of pleasure and entertainment


External rewards in motivating environment-friendly behaviour[edit | edit source]

Concepts from the three psychological theories discussed suggest that extrinsic motivation, or external rewards, is not an effective way to entirely incorporate environment-friendly behaviour into an individual’s life. Extrinsic motivation produces short-term effects (Seguin, 1999). It cannot influence a long-term improvement in environmental behaviour since extrinsic incentives tend to undermine the internalisation of behaviour, thus reducing self-determined motivation[factual?].

Numerous studies back up the inefficacy of external rewards towards promoting long-term environmental behaviour. Extrinsic motivators, such as incentives or rewards, help influence environment-friendly behaviour, however they have insignificant effects on change duration in the long run when the contingencies disappear (Seguin et al., 1999; Tabernero & Hernandez, 2010). In fact, Baxter and Pelletier (2020) found that non-self-determined motivation and extrinsic goals were negative predictors of having sustainable behaviour.

Case Study

Britta tested the efficacy of external rewards in motivating eco-friendly behaviour on her younger siblings. Britta challenged them; that every time they would do a task that is environmentally friendly (e.g., turning off television when not using it), she would give them a 2 dollar coin. During this challenge, she observed an increase in environmentally-friendly behaviour from her siblings. However, it seems that this has not been an effective resolution in fully embedding it in their lifestyle. Britta's mom told her that her siblings were only doing these environmentally-friendly behaviours when Britta was around.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Environment-friendly behaviour is any act that individuals partake in society that positively impacts the environment. This can be done in small ways by incorporating it into our daily lifestyle, and it can also be done in magnified ways, in which it can visibly impact their community. In searching for theoretical explanations in motivating this behaviour, they highlighted the importance of intrinsic motivation in providing long-term effects. It is not surprising then that external rewards are not considered an effective motivator in incorporating environment-friendly behaviour in an individual’s lifestyle.

Therefore, how can environment-friendly behaviour be effectively motivated? Indeed, it would be unfair to undermine the short-term benefits of extrinsic rewards (e.g., financial advantages of conserving water and energy). However, regarding the principles of intrinsic motivation, individuals can change behaviour if they are willing to change aspects of themselves, including their perception, beliefs, and actions towards the environment.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Aitken, N. M., Pelletier, L. G., & Baxter, D. E. (2016). Doing the difficult stuff: Influence of Self-Determined motivation toward the environment on transportation pro-environmental behavior. Ecopsychology, 8(2), 153–162.

Axon, S. (2017). “Keeping the ball rolling”: Addressing the enablers of, and barriers to, sustainable lifestyles. Journal of Evironmental Psychology, 52, 11–25.

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191–215.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.

Barr, S. (2007). Factors influencing environmental attitudes and behaviors. Environment and Behavior, 39(4), 435–473.

Baxter, D., & Pelletier, L. G. (2020). The roles of motivation and goals on sustainable behaviour in a resource dilemma: A self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 69, 101437.

Chan, K. (1998). Mass communication and pro-environmental behaviour: Waste recycling in Hong Kong. Journal of Environmental Management, 52(4), 317–325.

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

de Young, R. (1985). Encouraging environmentally appropriate behavior: The role of intrinsic motivation. Journal of Environmental Systems, 15(4), 281–292.

de Young, R. (1996). Some psychological aspects of reduced consumption behavior. Environment and Behavior, 28(3), 358–409.

Eisenack, K., Moser, S. C., Hoffmann, E., Klein, R. J. T., Oberlack, C., Pechan, A., Rotter, M., & Termeer, C. J. A. M. (2014). Explaining and overcoming barriers to climate change adaptation. Nature Climate Change, 4(10), 867–872.

Gifford, R. (2011). The dragons of inaction: Psychological barriers that limit climate change mitigation and adaptation. American Psychologist, 66(4), 290–302.

Huang, H. (2016). Media use, environmental beliefs, self-efficacy, and pro-environmental behavior. Journal of Business Research, 69(6), 2206–2212.

IPCC report: ‘Code red’ for human driven global heating, warns UN. (2021, August 11). UN News.

Karp, D. G. (1996). Values and their effect on pro-environmental behavior. Environment and Behavior, 28(1), 111–133.

Khare, A. (2011). Influence of hedonic and utilitarian values in determining attitude towards malls: A case of Indian small city consumers. Journal of Retail & Leisure Property, 9(5), 429–442.

Krajhanzl, J. (2010). Environmental and proenvironmental behavior. School and Health, 21(1), 251–274.

Schultz, P. W., Gouveia, V. V., Cameron, L. D., Tankha, G., Schmuck, P., & Franěk, M. (2005). Values and their relationship to environmental concern and conservation behavior. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 36(4), 457–475.

Schwartz, S. H. (1992). Universals in the content and structures of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental psychology (Vol. 25, pp. 1–65). Orlando, FL: Academic Press

Seguin, C., Pelletier, L. G., & Hunsley, J. (1999). Predicting environmental behaviors: The influence of Self-Determined motivation and information about perceived environmental health risks. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 29(8), 1582–1604.

Steg, L., & de Groot, J. I. M. (2012). Environmental values. Oxford Handbooks Online. Published.

Stern, P. C., & Dietz, T. (1994). The value basis of environmental concern. Journal of Social Issues, 50(3), 65–84.

Tabernero, C., & Hernández, B. (2010). Self-Efficacy and intrinsic motivation guiding environmental behavior. Environment and Behavior, 43(5), 658–675.

TEDx Talks. (2018, December 12). School strike for climate - save the world by changing the rules | Greta Thunberg | TEDxStockholm [Video]. YouTube.

Wai Yoong, S., Bojei, J., Osman, S., & Hashim, N. H. (2018). Perceived self-efficacy and its role in fostering pro-environmental attitude and behaviours. Asian Journal of Business and Accounting, 11(2), 151–186.

External links[edit | edit source]