Mind the Gap: Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior?
The article describes a few of the most influential and commonly used analytical frameworks, amongst the numerous theoretical frameworks developed, to explain the gap between the possession of environmental knowledge and awareness, versus displaying pro-environmental behavior.
1. Early US linear progression models
The limitation showed that in most cases, increase in knowledge and awareness did not lead to pro-environmental behavior.
Many communication strategies today are based on the assumption that more knowledge will lead to more enlightened behavior, however changing behavior is difficult. Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975, 1980, asserts the need to first measure the attitude toward that particular behavior.
2. Altruism, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior Models
Various researchers hypothesized that in order to act pro-environmentally, individuals must focus beyond themselves and be concerned about the community at large. This state of ‘actively caring’ can only occur if the need for self-esteem, belonging, personal control, self-efficacy, and optimism have been satisfied. Allen and Ferrand (1999) however, contends that there was a significant relationship only between personal control and sympathy.
3. Sociological Models
Sociological and psychological factors are independent from each other and can be influenced and changed.
Blake (1999) points out that most pro-environmental behavior models are limited because they fail to take into account individual, social, and institutional constraints and assume that humans are rational and make systematic use of the information available to them.
Kollmuss and Ageyman incorporated above and other models to analyse pro-environmental behavior through 3 main factors, acknowledging that the factors may be inter-related and may not have clear boundaries:
- Social and cultural
a. Motivation (e.g. Should I bike to work today, even though it rains, or do I drive?)
b. Environmental knowledge
- Childhood experiences in nature
- Experiences of pro-environmental destruction
- Pro- environmental values held by the family
- Pro-environmental organizations
- Role models (friends or teachers)
d. Attitudes (people choose the pro-environmental behaviors that demand the least cost (which may include time and effort needed to undertake that behavior)
e. Environmental awareness
- Non-immediacy of many ecological problems
- Slow and gradual ecological destruction
- Complex systems
- Emotional involvement
- Emotional non-investment
- Emotional reactions
f. Locus of control (People with a strong internal locus of control believe that their actions can bring about change, and vice versa)
g. Responsibility and priorities
Internal and external factors play a large part in shaping one’s pro-environmental behavior, and therein lies the barriers.
The question of what shapes pro-environmental behavior is such a complex one that it cannot be visualized through one single framework or diagram. We can only aim to achieve better understanding in this complex field.
The authors proposed their own model of predictors of environmental behavior and assert that they do not attribute a direct relationship to environmental knowledge and pro-environmental behavior. Education does not necessarily mean increased pro-environmental behavior. They termed environmental knowledge, values, and attitudes, together with emotional involvement simply as ‘pro-environmental consciousness’.
They also asserts that old behavior patterns/habits form a very strong barrier that is often overlooked in this field. Take for example an individual who has always driven to work. It will be rather tough to break that old habit and start taking public transport again (what with the ridiculous peak hour rush/overcrowded population). Granted, drivers will also be met with incessant traffic jams, but at least they are in the comfort of their car (motivation factor). Although in this case, there is also the issue of institutional factor – the public transport infrastructure could be lacking.
Would you consider taking public transport if you own a car and drive for the sake of the environment? Why yes, and why not?
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- 260.