Campaigns which remind individuals of the environmentally-friendly actions they already perform may motivate them to even more pro-environmental behaviours, new research from the EU suggests.
If people identify themselves as environmentally-friendly, they are more likely to carry out green actions, even in the absence of any incentive.
To face the many environmental challenges that exist today, a widespread shift towards environmentally-friendly behaviour is needed. Policymakers often try to encourage such behaviour by providing incentives. However, some individuals act in environmentally-friendly ways even when they do not stand to gain anything, and even when it may actually be costly to them.
Research was undertaken to explore why people are inspired to act in this way.
The researchers proposed that if an individual thinks of themselves as someone whose actions are pro-environmental, they will be more likely to behave accordingly.
For this research project, three studies were performed. In the first study, an online survey of 138 Dutch participants were asked how strongly they agreed with statements such as ‘I see myself as an environmentally-friendly person’, indicating whether they had a strong environmental self-identity.
The survey then established whether they felt any moral obligation to perform green behaviours by asking them whether they agreed with statements such as ‘I would feel guilty if I did not act in an environmentally-friendly manner’. Finally, they were asked about the likelihood that they would use green energy in the next year.
The results showed that those that regarded themselves as environmentally-friendly were also more likely to feel a moral obligation and were more likely to indicate that they would use green energy.
The second study, which had 45 participants, built on the first by adding questions to the survey which made moral obligations specific (e.g. ‘I feel morally obliged to buy sustainable products’) and by asking respondents to choose between two products; one sustainable but also 20 per cent more expensive than the other, unsustainable, option.
The results of the second study suggested that strong feelings of specific moral obligation and preference for environmentally-friendly products were also closely related to environmental self-identity.
The third study aimed to understand whether environmental self-identity was truly causing, rather than just correlated with, environmentally-friendly behaviour. To do this, the researchers reminded a third of participants of times when they had performed environmentally-friendly actions, strengthening their environmental self-identity. They achieved this by asking participants how often they performed very common environmentally-friendly actions, e.g. recycling waste paper. A third of the group was asked how often they performed uncommon environmentally-friendly actions, such as showering for only a very short time, and the final third was asked about an unrelated activity, for example, reading the newspaper.
The results of this indicated that those in the first third reported a stronger environmental self-identify after having being reminded of things they do that are eco-friendly, and subsequently felt more morally obliged to perform green behaviours.
The researchers conclude that environmental self-identify does influence motivation for environmental actions and that policymakers should consider running campaigns that remind people of the environmental actions they frequently perform to strengthen the sense of themselves as an environmentally-friendly person.