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Barriers to pro-environmental behaviour

Zamru Ajuhari

Conservation is a form of human exertion. It was started by humans, devised by humans, and envisioned to change human behavior (Mascia et al., 2003).

In a vital piece of environmental essay, Schultz (2011) stressed that conservation simply means behavior, and conservation goals can only be achieved by changing human behavior. He went on to highlight several research findings in the field of environmental psychology that exemplify the challenges of changing behavior; (1) education typically does not change behavior, (2) human thinking is biased and myopic when it comes to environmental threats, (3) people tend to believe that they are separate from nature, and (4) social norms promote behavior change. Ergo, despite the policies and legislation, environmental problems will not be resolved or minimized without encouraging pro-environmental behaviors. According to Steg & Vlek (2009) and Geller (2002), pro-environmental behaviors could be facilitated by identifying their barriers. Therefore, this article highlights several significant barriers to be considered in encouraging pro-environmental behavior.

According to Burn & Winter (2008), there are five barriers to pro-environmental behavior. The first is the barrier of normative constraints and influences. The influence of norms could be seen in behaviors that occur because of the influences of others, as people tend to behave the way that others do. The simplest example is littering behavior. People tend to dump their waste at the place where the waste is present, although that place is an undesignated place to dump the waste. In addition, depreciative behavior could occur because of the typical or common behavior in a social environment. For example, suppose smoking in an open environment is typical in a social setting. In that case, people tend to keep performing such behavior without constraints and hesitations. The same goes for wildlife hunting and open burning, as these behaviors are still typical in many parts of the world.

The second barrier to pro-environmental behavior is the conflict of beliefs and attitudes. Conflicts of beliefs and attitudes occur when pro-environmental behaviors conflict or compete with the self-beliefs about the behaviors that could result in environmental disasters. For example, some still believe climate change is unreal or just propaganda (Goldberg et al., 2021; Kovaka, 2021) because it conflicts with their beliefs that the change in climate is just a part of the natural cycle. Moreover, depreciative behavior could also occur when the pro-environmental behavior is less convenient or costly to perform. For example, taking public transport can be more time-consuming, less pleasurable, less profitable, and more effortful (Steg et al., 2014), even if it is the right thing to do. The same goes for using chemicals and pesticides in agricultural activities since maintaining crops and produces could be much easier with chemicals than investing in a much safer eco-friendly way of crop maintenance.

The third barrier is the setting design. Setting design barriers occur when a facility or infrastructure design allows or poses a little obstacle to performing depreciative behavior. The simplest example is the inconveniences design or location of the trash receptacles that sometimes allow or force people to litter. Another example would be the inconveniences and inefficiency of the public transport that encourages the public to take personal rides for their daily commutes.
The fourth barrier is the barrier of habit. As humans are creatures of habit, they tend to act as they usually do subconsciously. An example would be using plastic bags or wrappers that people supposedly know are bad for the environment. Nevertheless, most people are still using plastic in their daily routines. The last barrier is ignorance or misinformation, as people could be unaware of the adverse consequences of their behavior. Alternatively, they could be misinformed about behaviors that they thought could be good for the environment. For example, the fake news on climate change (Lutzke et al., 2019; Pennycook & Rand, 2021) could influence them to perform the typical depreciative behavior without realizing its impacts on the environment.

These barriers are among the usual reasons that drive people, whether they realize it or not, to act against pro-environmental behaviors. Thus, reaffirming what is right and wrong and letting the people recognize what is necessary is essential in encouraging pro-environmental behaviors. Other than that, pro-environmental behavior could be encouraged by analyzing the specific barrier of a particular depreciative behavior. Information, prompt, and persuasive communication intervention strategies often work well to influence the depreciative behaviors resulting from ignorance/misinformation barriers, conflict of beliefs and attitudes, and normative barriers (Steg & Vlek, 2009; Geller, 2002). Similarly, modeling by public figures or role models and demonstrating the proper behavior is one of the strategies that could be adopted to target the normative barriers (Burn & Winter, 2008; Schultz et al., 2007). On the other hand, commitment or pledges are practical to encourage behaviors resulting from habit barriers and conflicts of beliefs and attitudes. Furthermore, it is paramount that performing pro-environmental behavior should be much more convenient and cheaper in targeting the depreciative behaviors.
Burn, S. M., & Winter, P. L. (2008). A behavioral intervention tool for recreation managers. Park Science, 31(1), 5-15.

Geller, E. S. (2002). The challenge of increasing pro-environmental behavior. In B. R. Bechtel & A. Churchman (Eds.), A Handbook of Environmental Psychology. John Wiley & Sons. https://doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2004.02.001

Goldberg, M. H., Gustafson, A., Rosenthal, S. A., & Leiserowitz, A. (2021). Shifting Republican views on climate change through targeted advertising. Nature Climate Change, 11(7), 573-577.

Kovaka, K. (2021). Climate change denial and beliefs about science. Synthese, 198(3), 2355-2374.

Lutzke, L., Drummond, C., Slovic, P., & Árvai, J. (2019). Priming critical thinking: Simple interventions limit the influence of fake news about climate change on Facebook. Global Environmental Change, 58, 101964.

Mascia, M. B., Brosius, J. P., Dobson, T. A., Forbes, B. C., Horowitz, L., McKean, M. A., & Turner, N. J. (2003). Social sciences and conservation. Conservation Biology, 17, 649-650.

Pennycook, G., & Rand, D. G. (2021). The psychology of fake news. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 25(5), 388-402.
Schultz, P. W. (2011). Conservation means behavior. Conservation Biology, 25(6), 1080-1083.

Steg, L., & Vlek, C. (2009). Encouraging pro-environmental behavior: An integrative review and research agenda. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29(3), 309-317.

Steg, L., Bolderdijk, J. W., Keizer, K., & Perlaviciute, G. (2014). An integrated framework for encouraging pro-environmental behavior: The role of values, situational factors, and goals. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 38, 104-115.

Tarikh Input: 03/08/2022 | Kemaskini: 03/08/2022 | masridien


Universiti Putra Malaysia
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Selangor Darul Ehsan