Motivation toward pro-environmental behavior
Early researchers thought quantity of environmental knowledge had a large impact on pro-environmental behavior; researchers, however, currently agree that only a small amount of pro-environmental behavior can be linked to environmental knowledge. Kollmuss and Ageyman pointed out that most people do not know enough about environmental issues to act accordingly, but they noted other researchers have found a large amount of detailed information does not seem to bolster pro-environmental behavior either.
Environmental knowledge appears to play a role but there seems to be other factors at place. Keiser et al., (1999), discussed other components needed to improve pro-environmental behavior, focusing on feelings of responsibility toward the environment. They found a large correlation (.63) between feelings of responsibility toward the environment and ecological behavior intention. Similar research by Hellman, Hoppes, and Ellison (2006) found the same amongst college students and relevant factors pertaining to intent to engage in community service. The highest correlation found in the study was between feelings of responsibility for the community and participating in community service (.70).
Emotional responses for the environment play a critical role in motivation toward pro-environmental behavior; this emotional connection is perhaps crucial in order to curtail our consumption and lead us to a more sustainable path. According to Kaiser et al. (1999) “[b]ecause the environment is a common property that is available to all people, one individual’s consumption of natural resources also affects other people. Abstinence from consumption is often at one’s own expense, but betters the situation of others” (p. 59).
Converging on the idea, Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) state that “an emotional connection seems to be very important in shaping our beliefs, values, and attitudes towards the environment” (p. 254). One reason there is a lack of emotional connection to the current ecological problem, presented by Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002), is that we can’t seem to perceive environmental degradation around us such as an accumulation of greenhouse gases or nuclear radiation. Environmental problems are not always immediately noticeable and may in part contribute to our denial. Environmental impact occurs over long periods of time and in rather slow incremental changes making it hard for us to perceive. Kollmuss and Agyeman (2002) also noted that lack of human perception towards the eco-system can cause humans to undermine the complex system at hand, thus lacking the knowledge to know how one aspect of the eco system is connected with another. However, individuals can perceive the stench created by pollution or can visually see pollutants in water and dead fish that have been affected by pollution and thus take action.
The ability to perceive environmental degradation is key to initiating motivation toward pro-environmental behavior, yet just perceiving it will not always lead to the behavior itself; there are other motivational factors that need to be taken into account in order to fully maximize pro-environmental behavior. Kollmuss and Ageyman (2002) noted that extrinsic forms of motivation, i.e. financial compensation, can motivate people to behave pro-environmentally; although, Kollmuss and Ageyman (2002), argued “such unconscious pro-environmental behavior can easily be reversed or changed to a more unsustainable pattern because it is not based on some fundamental values” (p. 250).
Converging on with Kollmuss and Ageyman (2002) idea, Lowery, Shrum, and McCarty (1994) found that people who are intrinsically motivated to recycle tend to identify with values such as inner harmony, self-respect, and achievements, with less identification with wealthy living. They also found that culturally oriented values tend to have an influence on recycling with collectivistic cultures recycling more than individualistic. O’Connor, Lerman, and Fritz (2010) also discussed the need for availability to recycle in order to recycling to occur. O’Connor et al., showed that when college students have access to recycling bins in locations where plastic is used for consumption purposes, the likelihood of recycling doubled. They argued that “it is likely that the location of purchases on the university campus has differed from the setting in which consumption occurred” (p. 714). This showed that accessibility to recycling receptacles is crucial to motivating consumers to engage in recycling behavior.