Exploring the Social Dynamics of Proenvironmental Behavior: A Comparative Study of Intervention Processes at Home and at Work

By Michael Nye and Thomas Hargreaves

Proenvironmental behavior is intrinsically related to the social contexts of interaction. Using theories of symbolic interaction, two team-based behavior change interventions are analyzed. This article highlights why policy studies should pay greater attention to the process of behavior change. The social dynamics and mechanisms of the intervention opens up opportunities for renegotiating environmentally friendly behaviors at home and in the workplace.

Behavior Change Programs:

  1. The Environment Champions Program (for workplace)
  2. The EcoTeams Program (for home)

The influence of social dynamics in shaping behavior has been studied by Geog (1999). Communities collectively negotiate new standards and expectations on how others should behave. It would then influence individual community members to adopt those behavior for two reasons; because because they think it is expected of them, and also because they expect others to behave similarly (Georg 1999, p 462).

1) The Environment Champions Program

The initiative was run from December 2006 to November 2007 by an environmental global charity, Global Action Plan. Promotes . Participants formed a team to discuss about environmental problems and actions in a construction company. It comprised of people from different departments, age, gender, and seniority in the company.

Framing Truths
An audit in January 2007 revealed that company’s office produced 11.7 tonnes of waste, 58% of which could have been recycled. Results from the audit provided verifiable justification and motivation to re-examine office practices to reduce environmental impact. However, it was met with resistance from the facilities team. While previously results from the audit was seen as a motivating factor because of it’s numeric nature, it was because of this numerical reason that the facilities team were able to easily contest campaign ideas without being seen as insensitive about the environment.

Positive changes of habits towards the environment was only achieved through collective social means. The Champion initiative worked by policing new social expectations and establishing informal proenvironmental rules.  For example, people “caught each other out” for leaving electrical appliances on, or when printing is done on a single sided page.

29% decrease in waste and 5.4% decrease in electricity usage

2) The EcoTeams Program

The EcoTeams Program brings together 4 to 8 individuals within the same neighborhood to discuss about environmental problems and practical ideas for change. Participants measure their household wastage, energy usage and recycling for  4-6 months and send the figures to a team facilitator, who would give feedback on the achievements in that neighborhood.

Participants have prior interest on a green lifestyle. The program gave them the opportunity to see how well they “stacked up” against those who hold similar views and live similarly. The program also offered a sense of legitimization and social support, and as a safe forum for generation and exchange of green knowledge without being labeled “tree-huggers”.

7% waste reduction and successful changes of environmental behavior across several areas of daily activity.


Social support, discussion and feedback are known drivers of environmentally positive behavior. However this article  highlights that those mechanisms work differently when used in different social contexts. I personally think that the social factor in influencing behavioral change can result in either compliance or resistance and that ultimately, it is up to how an individual sees and evaluates himself through others that will push them into action.


Nye, M. and Hargreaves, T. (2009). Exploring the Social Dynamics of Proenvironmental Behavior Change – A Comparative Study of Intervention Processes at Home and Work. Journal of Industrial Ecology 14(1): 137-149.

– glassleaves


1 comment so far

  1. orube90 on

    I feel that social support plays a big role in environmentally positive behavior however, I also feel that it is partially due to peer pressure as well. Most of us try to blend in with the crowd and might choose to adopt environmentally friendly habits.

    However the habit might not stay if one shifts to another workplace that doesn’t practice reducing, reusing and recycling, when one does not have any interest in caring for the environment. She/he would not be likely to adopt and pass on the green ideas to her new workplace, as she/he does not have any prior interest on a green lifestyle.

    In my neighborhood, we used to have people distributing green plastic bags for households to pack ‘recyclable’ stuff to be recycled, but I do not see many households participating in the campaign as they see it as too much effort needed in washing and cleaning the plastic bottles before packing them into the plastic bag, they rather chunk the rubbish into the trash for convenience’s sake.

    Thus I see less and less green plastic bags being handled out to households due to the poor receptiveness to the ‘green’ campaign. Thankfully, my family participated in the campaign and I feel happy to see them leaving the green plastic bags outside our house, as they sort of recognize the effort that my family did for the environment and we would certainly continue to do so.

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