Behaviour Change: Does what you think dictate what you do?
Have a think about where you stand on environmental issues, I mean have a real long hard think. Now, having done this, think about all the choices you make in your day to day life. Does your behaviour reflect your opinions and values with regards to environmental sustainability? If you’re anything like me, your answer is probably going to be: “sort of…”.
Why is it that as opinionated and ideological beings, we often do not uphold the values that we hold as important and as reflecting who we are? Nye and Hargreaves in their 2009 paper Exploring the Social Dynamics of Proenvironmental Behaviour Change attempt to show that it is often the social context with which we interact with others that plays a major part in shaping our behaviour. The article examines two programs developed by the Global Action Plan (GAP) group; an international network of member organisations that aim to “empower people to live and work increasingly sustainably”. Nye and Hargreaves focus specifically on the GAP UK arm of the network and their two programs Environment Champions; a workplace-based program, and EcoTeams; a program aimed at households.
The authors found that in the workplace, the initiation of the Environment Champions program instilled a new set of informal rules that changed the understandings and expectations of what it meant to be a ‘good employee’. The designated ‘Champions’; employees who were chosen to instigate the changes in the workplace, were often projected by other employees as being “the recycling police” or “Mr Environment”. This shows how the general workplace consensus on what was expected of them began to shift.
This program makes people think twice while in the workplace, as employees are no longer judged just on how hard they work or their standard of work, but also their ethical integrity. This idea is similar to that which Carmen Lawrence described in her lecture on the psychology behind environmental behaviour change: if it’s clear that people around you are being responsible, it is a poor reflection on yourself if you do not change your behaviour. There is also something to be said about the global reach of the GAP program, as being part of a global network may enhance this ‘keeping up appearances’ effect. The UWA Environmental Services Department runs a similar internal version of this program called the ‘Green Offices Program’. I wonder if joining a global network like GAP wouldn’t be a more effective option…
The EcoTeams program brings together groups of four to eight individuals from the same street or neighbourhood in facilitated meetings to discuss environmental problems and practical ideas for change. This setting serves to reinforce people’s values on environmental sustainability and acts as a catalyst for behaviour change. Respondents in the EcoTeams program stated that mixing with other like-minded individuals provided a welcome sense of social support and reassurance that they were not alone, geographically or metaphorically in their beliefs.
This resonated particularly strongly with me, as sometimes I feel surrounded by others that do not share my sense of urgency and necessity for action. Most of my friends are not particularly environmentally-minded and often it is easy to become disheartened or lose momentum when attempting to change behaviour when you feel like your fighting a lone battle. I feel that being part of a group like this would invigorate and enthuse people with green values to make the changes in their lives that they want to, but who have perhaps just lost their sustainability mojo.
I am in no way excusing myself here for my sometimes lackadaisical effort to be green, however there is definitely something to be said about the inspiring effect of being around others that are taking action. This article demonstrates the power of a communal approach to sustainability. Perhaps this communal focus is the way forward into the future?
What do you think?
By Ryan Wilson
Nye, M. and Hargreaves, T. 2009, Exploring the Social Dynamics of Proenvironmental Behaviour Change