Ever wondered why environmental awareness and sustainability-inclined behavior seem to come easier to some people more than others? (If you think this statement is indirectly pertaining to you and your wasteful, resource-intensive neighbor respectively, you may be permitted to think so as long as there is evidence beyond reasonable doubt.)
We’ve all known certain people who don’t think twice before throwing trash on the streets, while there are those who do think twice if that pair of broken skis can’t be recycled into something useful yet. Prof. Dr. Rune Ellemose Gulev of the University of Applied Sciences Kiel, Germany tackles the hard question, “What promotes sustainable behavior in people?” in her study On the Origins of Sustainable Behaviour: Linking Attitudes and Values to Sustainable Behaviour featured in Science Daily.
The question is acknowledged to be a “difficult” one especially as it has not been scientifically explored. The study in itself along with its data is not meant to be the answer to this challenging question, or to serve as a basis for the answer. The very first words of the report establishes its goal as a pilot study seeking to initiate debate and motivating further research into the suspected correlation of cultural values and sustainability-inclined behavior among people.
Dr. Gulev’s study was set in a purely European context, which is a rather huge letdown for those who might have an interest to read the study in a global culture context. But by limiting the countries in focus there is a greater control over uniform collection of data, an advantage that cannot be denied.
The study compared two sets of attitudes and cultural values respectively for each European country included in the research. The first set is the 7 attitudes towards sustainable business practices:
- Environmental laws and compliance should not hinder the competitiveness of businesses
- Sustainable development should be a priority
- Social cohesion should be a priority for the government
- Social responsibility of business leaders should be high towards society
- Ethical practices should be implemented in companies
- Corporate boards should supervise the management of companies effectively
- Health, Safety & Environmental concerns should be adequately addressed by management
Source: adapted from World Competitiveness Yearbook 2005
Countries were ranked according to the frequency of positive attitudes towards sustainable practices though the study disclaims that degrees of precession other than for the purpose of comparing extremes are unwarranted. Denmark averaged at 1.71 in all seven attitudes followed closely by Finland and Austria while Poland averaged 20.86, coming in after Romania and Italy.
The second set is the 10 cultural values suspected of fostering positive inclination towards sustainable behavior:
- Being unselfish is an important quality to encourage
- Being prepared to do something to improve the conditions in your community
- Equality for everyone should be prioritized ahead of freedom of development
- Less emphasis on money and material possessions would be good
- Being prepared to sacrifice personal income for the prevention of environmental pollution
- The extent to which good pay is important to you
- Parents of the current generation should sacrifice for the well-being of children of the next generation
- The extent to which most people can be trusted
- A simple and more natural life style would be good
- Tolerance and respect are important qualities to learn
Source: rank values based on EVS (2005) data
Ireland ranked first in decreasing rank order at an average of 7.30 in all ten cultural values followed by Italy and Belgium, while Germany averaged 16.10 at the last spot preceded by Russia and Estonia.
Ireland ranked first in the 2006 Human Development Index country table of scores, while Finland ranked first in the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index, with Sweden coming in at second place in both sustainability avenues. The study also subjected the sets of data to the Spearman rank correlation test outcome to determine which values and attitudes had a strong correlation to sustainability-inclined behavior.
According to the study, the positive correlation between sustainable business practices and sustainability-inclined behavior is not surprising as businesses frequently adopt practices that reflect the priorities of the local populace. On the other hand some cultural values seem to challenge the notion that they reinforce sustainability-inclined behavior. One example cited in the study is the ninth cultural value, “A simple and more natural life style would be good,” which had low correlation rank on both sustainability avenues.
The study puts forth the explanation that instead of people favoring a “simple and natural life,” they may instead believe that a better utilization of resources and technology such as use of solar power and wind turbines are the key to sustainability.
The study admits that the idea of linking human cultural values to sustainability-inclined behavior is a large and unchartered territory, and though it may seem logical as well as intuitive to conclude that the link does exist, there are only a few research agendas about it.
Dr. Gulev’s study does provide significant ground for discussion regarding the idea and may serve as an initial step for further research, hopefully to be taken into a broader scale and territory. If the link between cultural values/attitudes and sustainability-inclined behavior is eventually proved (scientifically) in the future, it is expected to affect the way sustainability practices are perceived and fostered. This might be one of the most critical issues the present generation might have to face, as it grapples with present and inherited environmental problems as well as trying its best to preserve the environment for the future. The conservation of our planet will not lie forever in our hands, but will eventually pass on to those for whom we are preserving it: the next generation. No matter how good or bad a job we’ve done, our planet will ultimately be subjected to the next generation’s decisions. Will they continue conservation efforts and sustainability practices we’ve started today? Or will they tear down what we’ve managed to save? We as the present generation are not only handing down a planet, but values and attitudes that might be a great influence on fostering sustainability-inclined behavior in future generations.
Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by emmequadro61 on Flickr.
Subscribe to our Mailing List
Keep up to date with all that we do at The Environmental Blog. We are always trying to get the best environmental stories, news, and views that you want to read about. So why not stay in touch?Reasons to JOIN US include:
- It's absolutely FREE!
- Get Green Tips You MUST know about.
- How to's on going green, saving money, and having fun.
- Keep up-to-date on our posts in cased you missed them.
Your privacy will never be compromised
You Might Like: