Knowledge is one of the most important aspects to promote pro-environmental behaviour. Without knowledge, people would not be aware of threats the environment is facing due to human behaviour. However, knowledge may work better for those who already have an intention to save the environment compared to those who do not.
Environmental attitudes are people’s disposition towards the environment. Attitudes can be positive or negative and may predict behaviour. According to the Theory of Planned Behaviour, attitudes is an important factor in determining behavioural intention. Attitudes are contsructed based on past experiences with the environment. Mass media also plays a part in constructing attitudes and may bring about positive attitudes in people. For example, in Mexico, a serial drama was broadcasted highlighting the lives of small and big families. This proved to be effective in decreasing birth rates as it fell by 34%.
Values are principles of behaviour. According to the Value-Belief-Norm theory, environmental values will shape an individual’s worldview, which will consequently affect the individual’s judgement of his or her ability to change and this will finally influence personal norms about engaging in environmental behaviour. It has been found that values like openness to change and compassion are linked to pro-environmental behaviour. It may be difficult to change people’s values but behavioural change can still occur values that are already present in people can be made use of.
Emotions play a part in sustainable behaviour. It has been found that empathy increases likelihood of people donating to an environmental cause. Empathy can be invoked in people towards aspects of the environment, especially animals so that people would be more inclined to help. Both positive and negative emotions can influence behaviour. Positive emotions towards environment and negative emotions towards others who degrade the environment can encourage sustainable behaviour.
When dealing with the emotion of fear, there should be moderation as too much fear would lead to the feeling of helplessness, in which people would feel that they are unable to change anything. Furthermore, people could also fail to believe in the probability of the event occuring. On the other hand, moderate fear may work as people may feel more inclined to take action and change their behaviour.
Self-efficacy is an individual’s perception of whether he or she is able to do something. Self-efficacy is another strong determinant of behaviour. Even with proper knowledge and a positive environmental attitude, an individual who has low self-efficacy would not engage in sustainable behaviour on the basis that they feel they lack the ability to do so. Hence, increasing people’s self-efficacy will lead to more action. Self-efficacy in small simpler actions may lead to self-efficacy in bigger actions in the long run
For example, the book “50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth” by the Earth Works Group aims to increase people’s self-efficacy for simple pro-environmental behaviours.
6. Attribution of responsibility
Attribution of responsibility refers to whether people feel that responsibility of saving the environment falls on their own shoulders or on others’. If individuals feel personally responsible for behaving sustainably, this may more likely lead to engagement in the behaviour. A study of 445 Swiss adults by Kaiser and Shimoda (1999) showed that feeling personally responsible is correlated with pro-environmental behaviour.
Anonymity or depersonalisation reduces likelihood of behaving sustainably. To increase an individual’s sense of personal responsibility, we can ask them to make a commitment. Written commitments are better than verbal commitments, and it is better to do a public rather than private commitment. In addition, voluntary commitments are better than forced ones.
7. Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance occurs when attitudes, beliefs or behaviours are conflicting, giving rise to inconsistent states. This may result in uncomfortable feelings. For example, a person with a belief that humans should do more to save the environment but does not engage in this behaviour his or herself may lead to cognitive dissonance as the behaviour is not congruent with the belief. This dissonance may lead to an increase in sustainable behaviour as people may try to reduce the unpleasant feelings associated with dissonance.
However, the opposite may also happen as people may seek alternative ways to reduce this dissonance without having to change their behaviour. Firstly, individuals deny information that is causing the discrepancy in their attitudes/beliefs and behaviour. Secondly, they may reassess the importance of the consequence of their behavioural change. Lastly, they may justify or rationalise their behaviours.