Pro Environmental Behavior from a Psychological Perspective: how it can be promoted, and why you should care

Litter on the beaches in Florida is a progressive and increasingly frustrating problem. Places like Cocoa beach are beautiful for the most part and the majority of the year. The primary culprit of this problem is not who or what you might think. The tourists are usually pretty respectful and take the time to clean up their trash. The locals are even more so; taking great pride in their beaches. The chief perpetrators are severe thunderstorms and hurricanes. I don’t know where the garbage blows in from; probably just from the trash cans of the residences and businesses in the area, but after a windy storm the beach looks like a landfill. I’ll never forget the scene after the last major storm in Cocoa beach. Cans, bottles, rotting food, even a toilet seat cover and a broken pallet somehow made its way out there. The beaches were lined with garbage as far as the eye could see.

Who’s responsible for cleaning up this mess? No one! This trash sat out there until it decomposed or blew somewhere else. It was disgusting. This problem is far too big for any one person to try to take on themselves. This has to be a community effort. There needs to be procedures put in place ready to combat this problem when it occurs, because it will never stop happening. Each time this happens, the beach and ocean wildlife is at greater risk and the scenery becomes a little less beautiful.  While the tourists walk away with a negative perception of should’ve been a memorable experience. (Need I point out that tourism is the lifeblood of the Florida’s coastal economy?)

Tourism and the increasing populations on the beaches of Florida are also contributing factors to the garbage that accumulates on the beaches after large storms. For this reason it is the responsibility of the community to collaborate and come up with ways to sustain this environment. Environmental sustainability is a global issue facing all environments as global climates are changing, air and water pollution is on the rise, waste is accumulating at alarming rates, and natural forests, such as the tropical rain forest are being destroyed (Beatley, 2009). Every community, big and small, needs to take action to promote pro environmental behavior and find ways to make green living affordable.

 

Strategies for Promoting Positive Environmental Behavior

There are different ways the community can collaborate to change human behavior to better accommodate and promote pro environmental behavior. City officials need to take it upon themselves to find ways to include the community and to encourage the residents of the area to take responsibility for their beaches when a large storm hits and they get covered with trash. The city needs to implement both informational and structural strategies for changes to occur. Informational strategies are those that educate the public on the issue and how they can get involved. Structural strategies are those that will make changes in the circumstances of the issue, such as where the garbage can be disposed of (Steg, 2013).

One way the city can get the public involved is to hold community meetings that are open to everyone who wants to come. These meetings should be help at hours when most people are not working or at school such as evening hours. The goal of these meetings will be to educate the public on the issue and to help them develop plans and teams that will be ready to come together after a storm to help clean up the beaches. These teams will need to communicate with each other and designate times and places for each group or subgroup to do their work.

The county should also consider finding ways to get the kids involved. This can be done by offering incentives in school, such as a day off from normal coursework to help clean up the beaches or extra credit for getting involved in their free time. Kids can become strong, passionate advocates on the issue if properly educated and given a chance to experience the rewarding feeling of getting involved and making a difference.

And what about the inmates? We’ve all seen them helping to clean up the sides of the roads. Why not the beaches as well?

 

How Positive and Negative Consequences can Increase Pro-environmental Behavior

Positive and negative consequences are a significant factor in motivating human behavior. This can be applied to the promotion of pro environmental behavior and the interference of behaviors that are harmful to the environment. Psychological researcher B.F. Skinner argued that most human behavior is determined by its perceived consequences. Humans naturally seek out positive consequences and try to avoid negative consequences (Steg, 2013). This can also be thought of as rewards and punishments. Rewards don’t have to be in the form of a physical object or gift. Reduction of tension is a common positive consequence or reward of behavior. For this reason, educating the public on the issue in their community in a way that identifies the problem on a personal note will create a sense of tension towards the issue.  If the problem is presented in a way that induces an emotional response from the individual, they will be more likely to feel personal responsibility towards fighting it. This will also allow for a greater sense of reward for contributing to the resolution.

 

How Technological Advances have Affected the Environment Positively and Negatively

Technological advances have impacted the natural environment in both positive and negative ways. Technology is responsible for increasing pollution and industrial waste as well as creating sustainable “green” living environments and encouraging pro environmental behavior. Industrial waste is waste that is hazardous to humans and the environment for being ignitable, corrosive, reactive and/or toxic. Environmental researchers have determined that the cost of preventing damage from industrial waste is less than the cost of restoring environments after the damage has been done. Hence, hazardous waste management is a significant focus of government environmental agencies in industrialized countries. Waste that is not properly managed will usually result in soil toxicity, ground and surface water contamination, explosion and fire risks, air pollution, human disease and death, global climate change, and ecosystem necrosis. Despite all political efforts and technological advances, according to Dr. Evangelos Gidarakos and Dr. Maria Aivalioti of the Dpt. of Environmental Engineering and the Technical University of Crete in Greece, waste continues to be a worldwide problem lacking in adequate legislation, public awareness, and qualified operators of ecological handling (Gidarakos & Aivalioti, 2010).

Persuasive technology is a method that combines mechanisms of technology and psychology to persuade people to exhibit certain behaviors. It has proven effective in the promotion of pro environmental behavior through the use of visuals like billboards, audio messages like radio commercials, the internet, video, etc. Persuasive technology can act as a medium to mediate experiences of the world in a way that emphasizes certain factors and ignores others thus transforming the perception of the individual (Steg, 2013). Technology via media conveys messages and images of events that one would not otherwise be able to see or experience firsthand such as natural disasters. The psychological aspect of this method of persuasion involves choosing the right sounds, images, and words that will create a sensory experience to the intended audience (in this case the general public). If the message is successful, the viewer will have be left with a feeling of “being there” which will allow for an emotional reaction to the displayed situation. When the viewer generates an emotional response toward the perceived circumstances, they will choose behaviors accordingly. For example, after learning about the disastrous outcome of hurricane Katrina, many people send donations in various forms to help the victim of this storm. Some people even dropped what they were doing in their normal lives to travel to the disaster area to lend a hand. This enormous effort was the result of persuasive technology which conveyed the message of disaster to people who would’ve otherwise had no idea that such a catastrophe had taken place. The messages that viewed through media outlets created a sensory experience that ignited emotional responses that greatly influenced human behavior (Steg, 2013).

 

The Influence of Environmental Policies

Environmental policies are put in place in an attempt to sustain the environment, however public acceptability can have a strong and sometimes adverse affect on decision making. If the majority disagrees with the decision, even if it’s one that will benefit the environment, it is likely that the policy will not be passed (Steg, 2013). This is where educating the public becomes vital and the use of persuasive technology might be a strong advocate in the conveyance and reiteration of the necessary information. Policy outcomes need to be conveyed in a manner that describes them as fair to the individual and collectively (Steg, 2013). The influence of environmental policies that do survive public scrutiny is generally beneficial and reinforcing. When the public can identify for themselves that a policy is working, they are more likely to get on board to further combat the issue at hand. However, if a policy has not proven effective, the public may become frustrated with the issue with a sense that they are back at square one (Vlek, 2000).

 

Conclusion

While the government and public debate new policies, researchers are finding new innovative ways to live in an environmentally sustainable manner, and environmental advocates are attempting to convey environmental information while promoting pro environmental behavior, we as a species are progressively destroying the world’s natural ecosystems and changing the global climate for the worst. This is arguably the biggest problem facing mankind. This global issue is evident in our own communities (at varying degrees) and is the responsibility of the local residents and policy makers.


 

References

Beatley, T. (2009). Sustainability 3.0 Building tomorrow’s earth-friendly communities.      Planning 75(5).

Gidarakos, Evangelos Dr.; Aivalioti, Maria Dr. (2010). Industrial and hazardous waste      management. Journal of Hazardous Materials. Volumes 207–208, 15 March 2012,     Pages 1–2.

Steg, Linda. (2013). Environmental Psychology, An Introduction. Ed. 1. John Wiley &     Sons    Inc.

Vlek, C. (2000). Essential Psychology for Environmental Policy Making. International      Journal of Psychology, 35(2), 153-167

Andrea Espinosa