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4.3 Pro-Environmental Behavior

4.3.1 The Tentative Link Between Values, Attitudes, and Behavior

We commonly assume that values and attitudes influence behaviors and if we can change someone's values and attitudes, then we can expect their related behaviors to change. That certainly isn't the case. Persuasion theories have evolved over time to account for the weak link between values, attitudes, and behaviors. Decisions are influenced by much more than values, and many behaviors are not the result of thoughtful decisions but rather emotion, habit, and modeling. A large amount of persuasion research in the 1960s and 1970s focused on specifying the conditions under which the attitude–behavior link existed (Seiter 2009). The theory of reasoned action (Fishbein and Ajzen 1975) and the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen 1991) were among the theories developed to identify the myriad of factors influencing behavior. These theories and even more complex models of pro-environmental behavior follow.

The attitudes–behaviors–constraints theory of pro-environmental behavior (Guagnano et al. 1995) discusses how the link between attitudes and behaviors is often weakened due to constraints which often are not investigated. Most pro-environmental behavior models fail to account for individual, social, and institutional constraints and assume that people are rational and systematically use the information they receive (Blake 1999). It is not that people are irrational but rather we may feel that we lack the power needed to significantly address global or even local environmental issues.

Blake's (1999) description of three barriers to action—individuality, responsi-

bility, and practicality—overlaps with barriers described by others (e.g., Kollmuss and Agyeman 2010; Stern 2000). Attitudinal barriers consist of attitudes, values, norms, beliefs, lack of motivation, and temperament. Kollmuss and Agyeman (2010) do an excellent job identifying some other individual-level barriers such as lack of internal incentives and negative or insufficient feedback about behavior. For those who do not have a strong environmental concern, environmental issues may be outweighed by other attitudes (e.g., political identification, desire for the good life). External or contextual forces may include nonsupportive interpersonal influences (e.g., persuasion), nonsupportive community or institutional expectations, government regulations and other legal factors, limited financial incentives and high costs, the action's difficulty, capabilities and constraints provided by technology and the built environment, and the lack of policies supporting the behavior. Personal capabilities are the third type of causal variable and include lack of knowledge, skills, ability, and resources. A feeling of limited responsibility, which is similar to an external locus of control, applies when people feel they cannot or should not have to engage in a pro-environmental behavior. Barriers related to practicality includes social and institutional constraints like lack of time, lack of money, and lack of information. A final type of causal variable involves habit or routine.

Habits, the City of Fayetteville, and the City and County of Denver Peter Nierengarten, Director of Sustainability and Resilience for Fayetteville, AR, illustrated the challenge habits can present to those seeking to promote sustainability within an organization. I asked him about the increase in energy usage appearing on the city website even after the city's energy efficiency efforts. He explained, “You implement some efficiency improvement and track it closely but sometimes an efficiency is undone by users. They flip back into old habits and waste [energy].” The challenge is to get city employees to develop new habits. Jerry Tinianow, Chief Sustainability Officer for the City and County of Denver, described how that is his focus saying:

This approach that we are taking is so new and different. The idea of driving [sustainability] so deep in every city department that it becomes their habit, and then it becomes their instinct. I don't know if anyone has attempted to do that yet. So I don't really have anywhere else I can look to write out this script. I just have to believe in myself and my own approach and the backing that I have from the Mayor.. .. The Mayor really wants to leave a legacy of sustainability and does not want this to disappear when the next mayor comes in. And I think his philosophy of trying to make it a habit and then an instinct is going to ensure that sustainability continues as a basic operating mode in Denver regardless of who is sitting in the mayor's office.

Practitioners concerned with promoting sustainability-related initiatives within and between organizations need to identify potential barriers which may prevent people from engaging in the actions being promoted. Best Practice: When possible, craft messages that show how something really isn't a barrier or which provide message recipients with a way to overcome a potential barrier.

 
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