Why are some people more environmentally sustainable than others? An exploration of how values and identity motivate sustainable behaviour

Van Kasteren, Yasmin (2012). Why are some people more environmentally sustainable than others? An exploration of how values and identity motivate sustainable behaviour PhD Thesis, UQ Business School, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Van Kasteren, Yasmin
Thesis Title Why are some people more environmentally sustainable than others? An exploration of how values and identity motivate sustainable behaviour
School, Centre or Institute UQ Business School
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2012-01
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Bernard McKenna
Kelly Fielding
Total pages 221
Total colour pages 20
Total black and white pages 201
Language eng
Subjects 160802 Environmental Sociology
160805 Social Change
Formatted abstract Despite high levels of concern for the environment expressed by the general population, current approaches focusing on human responses to climate change and other pressing environmental issues are not achieving the mainstream shift in behaviour required to either slow the rate of global warming or effectively address environmental problems. One reason for this is that environmental sustainability is classified as a ’wicked problem’: that is, an intractable, complex problem for which there is no optimal or definitive solution. Wicked problems demand adaptive and inclusive responses sensitive to the evolving and diverse nature of society and the range of concerns and responses to environmental issues.

This research seeks to address the social complexity of environmental issues through an exploration of the way in which values and identity motivate environmentally sustainable behaviour (ESB). By integrating Schwartz’s values research and Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory, the research provides an in-depth understanding of the role of values and identities in motivating and hindering sustainable behaviour. Using a multi-method design, a group of individuals with low environmental impact was compared to a group with high environmental impact to highlight differences in identity, values, and motivation for ESB.

In a series of three studies sharing a common (nested) sample base, Study 1 (N = 101) measured each participant’s environmental impact based on ecofootprint. A median split of the sample was used to determine the low and high environmental impact/ecofootprint groups (Low n = 45, High n = 56) for all three studies. The Study 1 questionnaire also collected values and identity data using the Twenty Statements Test. T-tests of the values survey indicated differences in values between the groups. The low ecofootprint group had significantly stronger universalism (social justice and concern for the environment) and self-direction values, whereas the high ecofootprint group had stronger power, security, and tradition values. A content analysis of the identity statements showed not only differences between high and low ecofootprint groups in the ways in which they described themselves, but also revealed the extent of the relationship between values and identity. Half of the top five identity statements (46.5%) and a third of all identity statements (33.3%) reflected some form of values as described by Schwartz’s ten value types.

Study 2 (Low n = 15, High n = 17) used the repertory grid technique to elicit and discuss participants’ motivation for and against environmentally sustainable behaviours. Interviews were content-analysed using coding based on Self-Determination Theory to identify the range of motivation for environmentally sustainable behaviour, from amotivation through controlled motivation to more autonomous forms of motivation. Chi-square tests identified significant differences in motivation between the groups, with more autonomous forms of motivation associated with the low ecofootprint group and more controlled forms of motivation associated with the high ecofootprint group.

Study 3 (Low n = 17, High n = 23) used content analysis of semi-structured interview data to explore how the motivational properties of Schwartz’s value types result in amotivation and a range of both controlled and autonomous motivation for different categories of sustainable behaviour such as waste reduction or energy use. Results showed clear differences between the groups. The low ecofootprint group was autonomously motivated towards sustainable behaviour by the value types of universalism and self-direction; the high ecofootprint group experienced controlled forms of motivation towards sustainable behaviour associated with the values of conformity and security.

In a series of three studies sharing a common (nested) sample base, Study 1 (N = 101) measured each participant’s environmental impact based on ecofootprint. A median split of the sample was used to determine the low and high environmental impact/ecofootprint groups (Low n = 45, High n = 56) for all three studies. The Study 1 questionnaire also collected values and identity data using the Twenty Statements Test. T-tests of the values survey indicated differences in values between the groups. The low ecofootprint group had significantly stronger universalism (social justice and concern for the environment) and self-direction values, whereas the high ecofootprint group had stronger power, security, and tradition values. A content analysis of the identity statements showed not only differences between high and low ecofootprint groups in the ways in which they described themselves, but also revealed the extent of the relationship between values and identity. Half of the top five identity statements (46.5%) and a third of all identity statements (33.3%) reflected some form of values as described by Schwartz’s ten value types.

The implications of this research for policy and practice are threefold. Facilitating long term, sustainable, and cost-effective human responses to climate change and other environmental issues requires, first, a more segmented approach to promoting behaviour change to maximise autonomous motivation across a socially complex population base. Second, support for individual autonomy, social activities, and development of skills/knowledge should foster more autonomous motivation for environmentally sustainable behaviour. Third, a values-based approach to marketing that uses the value content of identities is more likely to effectively harness autonomous motivation and shift values across diverse market segments. The research highlights the social complexity of addressing environmental issues such as climate change and provides a basis for better understanding and addressing other wicked problems where values conflict.
Keyword Values
Identity
Motivation
Self-determination theory
Behaviour change
Environmental sustainability

 
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Created: Mon, 17 Sep 2012, 11:52:16 EST by Ms Yasmin Van Kasteren on behalf of Scholarly Publishing and Digitisation Service