Pro-Environmentalist Anyone?

by Xue Ni Koh



Earth hour.

The last Saturday of the third month at 8.30pm, lights will switch off all around the globe, for this one hour.

That’s tonight. Earth hour’s tonight.

It first started in one single city, Sydney. What started as a way to bring the community to acknowledge the importance of conserving Mother Earth’s natural resources, became a global symbol of hope and movement for change. In 2010, Earth Hour has created history as the biggest voluntary action yet, with 128 countries and more than 4500 cities.

So what makes people switch their lights off? Why do they care? What motivated them to act environmentally? Why do they go through the trouble of sitting in the dark for 60 minutes? Would their action go beyond these 60 minutes?

Over the last 30 years, psychologists and sociologists have been searching for the answer to these questions, or in particular, the answer to the questions: “Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behaviour?” By “pro-environmental behaviour”, it means the behaviour that consciously seeks to minimize the negative impact of one’s actions on the natural and built world (e.g. minimize resource and energy consumption, reduce waste production). However, the answers to those questions are extremely complex and cannot be visualised through one single framework.

Kollmuss and Agyeman had analysed the factors that were found to have some influence, positive or negative, on pro-environmental behaviour.

A few of the factors they mentioned were external factors, mainly the institutional, economic, social and cultural factors. I personally thought the institutional factors have quite an influence on people’s decision and behaviour towards the environment. As Kollmuss and Agyeman mentioned, many pro-environmental behaviours can only take place if the necessary infrastructures are provided, infrastructures such as recycling bins or public transport. I mean, if you had the choice, would you take a bus with broken seats and no air-conditioning, or would you rather be comfortable in your own car?

Of course, there are also the internal factors: motivation, environment knowledge, awareness, values, attitudes, emotion, locus of control, responsibilities and priorities. In my opinion, these are the true factors that strongly influence a pro-environmental behaviour. But, how often do people say “I shall bike to work today, even though it’ll rain.”? It was proposed that people choose the pro-environmental behaviours that demand the least cost. People who care about the environment tend to engage in activities such as recycling, but they do not necessarily engage themselves in activities that are more costly and inconvenient, such as driving less.

Barriers, these are the ones stifling one’s pro-environmental behaviour. Kollmuss and Agyeman hypothesized that primary motives, such as altruistic and social values, are often covered up by the more immediate selective values, which revolves around one’s own needs.

So is this why people act environmentally? Are these factors really encouraging pro-environmental behaviours? Or are these just causing people to act pro-environmentally without doing it out of environmental concern? Whereby, you are taking the bus solely because you do not want to spend time finding a parking spot, and then having to pay for a parking ticket. What is more, by taking the bus, you get to save petrol too. This, I think, is not a pro-environmental behaviour. You do not say, “I shall take the bus to save Mother Nature!” Ecological economists like to take advantage of this fact. By imposing taxes on environmentally harmful activities, people will automatically search for alternatives. For example, in countries with high gasoline tax, people tend to drive significantly less. From this, some cautioned that such unconscious environmental behaviour can easily be changed to a more unsustainable pattern because it is not based on fundamental values.


However, not all is bad. We can still make changes. As Mahatma Gandhi had said,

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

I’ll be switching off my lights tonight. Will you?




Kollmuss, A and J Agyeman. 2002. Mind the Gap: Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior? Environmental Education Research 8(3): 239- .


8 comments so far

  1. Beau Gamble on

    A brilliant post and an inspiring video! Ironically, and I feel guilty to say, I came across them at about 9pm last night — that’s halfway through Earth Hour. I was sitting at my power-hungry desktop computer in a fully-lit office in a mostly-lit house. I had completely forgotten about it.

    So thanks for reminding me. I turned off my computer and was actually glad for the excuse to undigitize (is that a word?) and read a novel in peace (though reading by the light of a tiny flickering candle is harder than I expected). Anyway, back to the message of your post…

    I think everyone has different motivations for minimising (or not) their impact on the environment. Climate change can be particularly difficult to sit up and take notice of — for many of us it’s such an intangible concept, a slow change that most people can’t directly perceive, and one that has little effect on the lives of many citizens in Western countries, at least for the time being.

    You highlighted a good point that Kollmuss and Agyeman make: that convincing people to make positive change is difficult enough already without the added problem of a lack of necessary infrastructure.

    This brought to mind an article in the West a couple of days ago about Perth’s stupidly overcrowded trains at peak hour, with some people not able to squeeze on until three of four trains had passed. It’s hard to expect people to switch from driving to public transport when Perth doesn’t have enough trains to take them to work!

    • kohx01 on

      Thank you Beau !!!
      Your comment made me really happy =)
      And don’t worry bout the Earth Hour thing, it’s just the thought that counts I guess!

  2. giselle013 on

    Such a great post! It is true that, people do not “take the bus to save Mother Nature’. I agree that economics is a huge factor when people choose to be environmental or not.

    It is interesting, in terms of solar power, Australia is lagging behind Germany…. while having half the sunshine of Australia, have 200 times the solar production capacity of our country due to a generous feed in tariff program. This feed-in tariff is a premium rate paid for electricity fed back into the electricity grid from a designated renewable electricity generation source like a rooftop solar PV system. So clearly… it is working because there is an economic return. In Australia, we employed net feed-in tariffs which pays the PV system owner ONLY for surplus energy they produce. Clearly, this is not working as well….so perhaps we need to encourage gross feed-in tariffs which pays for each kilowatt hour produced by a grid connected system as it will encourage more people to invest in solar technology?

    Well.. according to the factors proposed by Kollmuss and Agyeman .. that should certainly do the trick!

    • kohx01 on

      Thanks Giselle !!!
      Yeah, that’s really a great example. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. wangd05 on

    I have to agree with the previous posters; this is has been excellent read!
    Coming from a country where being enviromentally-friendly can be cost-saving, I have to agree with you (the author) that most of my enviromental actions have been, first and foremost, influenced by economic factors. This is especially true when you mentioned that people will most likely search for alternatives when there are taxes imposed on potentially enviromentally harmful activities.

    I believe when more enviromental education were to be invested in our youths, their notion of being enviromentally-friendly would extend beyond the scope of cutting costs, and revolve around saving planet earth instead.

    This could convert unsustainable unconsious pro-environmetal patterns into selfless, dependable pro-environmental behaviour.

    This could lead us to be the change that Ghandi advocates.

    • kohx01 on

      Thank you Dajun !!!
      I too, thought having environmental knowledge increase the chances of a person being a pro-environmentalist.
      However Kollmuss and Agyeman wrote that Kempton et al. found that, knowledge isn’t a prerequisite for pro-environmental behaviour. I thought it was weird too !!!

  4. Steven Correia on

    I believe i will have to agreee with Beau and Giselle on the writing of your post, and judgin by our combined positive attitudes I think this means you have produced somthing quite good. I Especially liked the tie in you used with the Earth Hour to ‘spice up’ the blog, not only was it very relevant and interesting it did provided a very good start to the post and it almost provided ‘reasoning’ behind the whole idea of the article.

    Speaking of the article I would like to get people’s ideas (questions, thoughts, query, comments) on the final model that they have produced. I must say that the model with the ‘barriers’ was new to me. I have seen simple models like Fietkau & Kessel’s Model of Ecological Behaviour and always found them lacking. I believe that psycologically Kollmus and Agyeman’s proposed model better represents a real situation as in my personal experience I am more likely to find a reason NOT to do something then I am to find a reason to do it.

    I think Kollmus and Agyeman explaination of barriers has sufficiently ‘filled the gap’ (see what I did there) that i had been feeling from the other, simpler models.

    • kohx01 on

      Thank you Steven =)
      I thought Kollmus and Agyeman have came out with a really great model. I thought the barriers really did the job there. Their explainations and examples have been easy to understand too. I have never thought that environmental behaviours of people can be so confusing !!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: