There has long since been a study of human behaviour and cognitive theory. An outcome of the numerous studies carried out is the birth of the idea of what is known as a pro-environment behaviour. Environmental behaviour consists of “all types of behaviour that change the availability of materials or energy from the environment or alter the structure and dynamics of ecosystems of the biosphere” (Stern, 2000). To give further context, a pro-environment behaviour is “behaviour that harms the environment as little as possible or even benefits the environment” (Steg and Vlek, 2009). Both external and internal factors affect one’s behaviour towards the environment. External factors refer to the society that an individual is placed in. These social groups might or might not place a high emphasis on environmentally friendly behaviours which indirectly affects the individual’s attitude towards the environment. On the other hand, internal factors refer to the psychological and mental aspect of an individual. Moral identity and beliefs play a big role in influencing the way one perceives the importance of the environment. This essay attempts to argue a link between pro-environment behaviours and their positive effects on the environment. There then will be an evaluation of the extent to which a pro-environment behaviour is able to mitigate environmental problems or resource scarcities. I will then briefly introduce ways in which pro-environmental behaviours can be encouraged which will then be followed by a conclusion which summarises the key arguments of this essay.
· “There are various environmental problems that threaten sustainability. Many of
these problems such as air pollution, water shortages, environmental noise, and
littering are rooted in human behaviour” (Gardner & Stern, 2002).
· Environmental behaviour is judged according to their impact on the environment and is often labelled as environmentally friendly or unfriendly.
· There are examples which help us establish a link between pro-environment behaviour and positive effects on the environment.
· I.e. Recycling, bringing your own bags when going grocery shopping which reduces usage of non-biodegradable plastic, being vegan/vegetarian to reduce methane gas emission (greenhouse gas) which contributes to global warming.
Extent to which pro-environment behaviour can mitigate environmental problems/resource scarcities
· Pro-environment behaviour is ineffective at mitigating environmental problems if the assumption that consumers are rational holds true.
· Characteristics of a rational consumer is that
a) Consumers make decisions that maximise utility.
b) Consumers will only proceed with a decision if the benefits from an action > the private costs incurred
c) Rational consumers act in their self-interest
d) Perfect knowledge of future preferences/taste and preferences/tastes are stable over time
· If the average consumer were rational, pro-environmental behaviours that would require some form of sacrifice on the consumer’s part would clash with the consumer’s aim to maximise utility.
· According to this rational choice model, the rational consumer would choose to maximise utility. The choice to make pro-environment decisions is secondary.
· Environmental goods are public goods which come with the non-rivalrous and non-excludable characteristics.
· This brings about the free-rider problem where a consumer is disincentivised to make pro-environment decisions.
· “individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest deplete resource through their collective action” Tragedy of the commons (Hardin,1968)
· The logic behind this is that there will always be another rational consumer trying to maximise his utility because it is impossible to exclude an individual from enjoying the benefits of what the environment has to offer.
· The consumer trying to make pro-environment decisions only loses out on potential utility in the process which is why this is serves as a disincentive for pro-environment behaviours.
· Hence, the pro-environment behaviour fails to mitigate environmental problems when we consider the case of rational consumers.
· On the flip side, pro-environment behaviour might be able to mitigate environmental problems because in the real world, consumers are often irrational.
· This is where an average consumer fails to behave in the way that is predicted by the rational choice theory and instead behaves in a manner that suggests bounded self-interest.
· The rational choice theory dehumanises the average consumer as it does not account for the fact that people can sometimes be selfless and display positive altruism. i.e. People simply care for the environment although it doesn’t bring them much short-term utility.
· If an individual comes from a background in which there is awareness about the importance of the environment, pro-environmental behaviour like recycling would be a norm.
· This would be a stepping stone for further similar behaviours, better known as a positive spill over effect.
· In a more general point of view, pro-environmental behaviour can mitigate environmental problems because if everyone played their role, the burden of environmental problems can be lessened.
· For example, if everyone were to use bicycles as a mode of transport instead of cars, pollutants from the emissions of cars i.e. CO2 (primary greenhouse gas responsible for global warming) and CO can be significantly decreased.
· However, this is simply not plausible as sometimes, going the extra mile with pro-environmental behaviours simply makes life harder.
· From a wider perspective, if large corporations were to play their part in promoting the importance of a pro-environment behaviour and at the same time practising these said behaviours, environmental problems can perhaps be lessened.
· Case study: Elon Musk’s goal to help the world transition away from reliance on fossil fuels to embracing more sustainable energy sources. Batteries that are used to store renewable energy like solar power is used to power Teslas. Quoting Elon Musk, the aim of solar powered cars is “to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy, which I believe to be the primary, but not exclusive, sustainable solution.”
· Large corporations playing their corporate environment responsibility by exhibiting pro-environmental behaviours can help mitigate environmental problems and resource scarcities (Tesla)
· However, one must also question the practicality of such a project. i.e. Affordability
Ways that pro-environment behaviour can be encouraged.
· A pro-environment behaviour could possibly be encouraged by using the nudge theory. The nudge theory was proposed by Thaler and Sunstein (2008) in Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. This is a concept which highlights the idea of framing information in a certain way to influence decision making without changing the set of choices.
· At the start of the book, the “cafeteria example” was introduced where healthy food was arranged in front at the food display to encourage people to eat healthily.
· Thaler and Sunstein stress that putting fruits at eye level would be a nudge, but banning junk food would not, as this would change the set of choices.
· Nudges are essentially libertarian paternalism where “the word “libertarian” emphasizes that the freedom of choices faced by the individual is preserved” (Sunstein and Thaler 2003)
· Many debates on the effectiveness an ethicality of nudges
· This is as the effect of nudges are difficult to predict and also to what extent can nudges be viewed as manipulation?
· Pro-environment behaviour can also be encouraged using the default concept as certain decisions are sometimes unconscious.
· This is where a pro-environment choice is set as a default where one would have to consciously opt-out of the default to make a different choice.
· Example: setting a printer to print on both sides of a paper instead of one side of a paper. Save trees.
· The essay attempts to show that a pro-environmental behaviour leads to positive effects on the environment then it discusses and evaluates the extent to which pro-environment behaviours can mitigate environmental problems and lastly, this essay gives us brief ways that one can encourage pro-environmental behaviours.
· Pro-environment behaviours can be an effective way to mitigate environmental problems, however one must not be overly reliant on it as it is an insufficient method on its own.
· To mitigate environmental problems, one must use a healthy mix of regulations, bans, taxes, subsidies, and not forgetting the encouragement of pro-environmental behaviours.
· Thaler RH, Sunstein CR (2008) “Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness”, penguin books.
· Stern, P. C. (2000) “Toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant
behaviour. Journal of Social Issues”, 56(3), 407–424
· Steg, L., & Vlek, C. (2009). “Encouraging pro-environmental behaviour: An integrative review and research agenda. Journal of Environmental Psychology” 29, pp. 309–317
· Hardin, G. (1968). “The Tragedy of the Commons”.
· Gardner, G. T., & Stern, P. C. (2002). “Environmental problems and human behaviour” (2nd
edition). Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Publishing.