Research Summary

Factors influencing pro-environmental collaborative collective behaviors toward sustainability transition – a case of renewable energy

Educators should consider student’s unique interests and experiences to promote collective pro-environmental behaviors

Environmental Education Research
2019

Environmental education has increasingly recognized the value of collective behaviors to create environmental change. Collective environmental behaviors are important for society to transition toward sustainable practices. For example, presenting collective opinions, such as signing a petition to change an environmental problem, is a collective behavior that works directly to push existing systems toward sustainability. Individual pro-environmental should be encouraged in youth, but also collective pro-environmental behaviors. This study looked at collective environmental behaviors among youth to work toward sustainability and involving collaboration with stakeholders, termed collaborative collective behaviors (CCBs). The researchers investigated the factors that promote or impede on CCBs and the implications for environmental education.

Goal intention is one’s intention to participate in solving environmental problems while behavior intention is the intention to change one’s actions. This study utilized a hypothetical behavioral model that proposed that goal intention influences behavior intention which results in the target environmental behavior. The behavior model evaluated multiple themes in contributing to goal intention, behavior intention, and target behavior. These themes were environmental perception, behavior evaluation, cognition of the role of CCB in social transformation, and variables related to CCBs.

This study took place in educational institutions around Japan. The researchers distributed an online questionnaire to high school and undergraduate students and collected 2,136 responses. From their answers, the participants were categorized as having either ‘strong behavior intentions’ or ‘weak behavioral intentions’ toward CCBs. Additionally, those who had experiences with CCBs were categorized as having “rich experience” and those without experience were categorized as having “little experience”. The researchers drew on the behavior model to analyze three concepts; differences in behavioral intention toward CCBs, differences in past experience with CCBs, and influence of personal beliefs on individual pro-environmental actions.

Participants with weak behavioral intentions and little experience tended to believe that individual actions could combat climate change. Also, the belief that individual behaviors are sufficient climate responses was negatively associated with responsibility for CCBs and perceived importance of CCBs; this led to less behavioral intent to participate in CCBs. The researchers concluded that environmental education emphasizing community involvement would effectively influence those with weak behavioral intention.

The researchers found that those with higher behavioral intention toward CCB demonstrated a higher correlation with the themes of the behavior model (environmental perception, behavior evaluation, cognition of the role of CCB in social transformation, and variables related to CCBs). The researchers determined that participants with strong behavioral intentions usually believed that CCBs require a large commitment, Japan did not have many CCB happenings, and that their individual actions were not enough to be influential. Participants with weak behavioral intention did not have this perspective because they had limited experience in CCBs and tended to believe that individual actions were sufficient to address climate issues. The results revealed that environmental education that promotes community involvement can motivate those with a weak behavioral intention to participate in CCBs. However, this strategy will not work for those who presently have strong behavioral intentions toward CCBs. Instead, environmental education should focus on raising awareness of the importance of CCBs for those with strong behavioral intentions.

The rich experience participants showed high environmental perception, meaning they took environmental problems seriously and felt responsible for them. High environmental perception was correlated to goal intention and “active interest” in environmental problems. It was also found, however, that environmental perception and “active interest” were not significantly correlated to behavioral intention toward CCBs. The researchers stated that this implicates that environmental education aimed at those who have rich experience should focus on raising awareness of different types of collective pro-environmental behaviors and teach individuals about collaboration and responsibility within CCBs. Among little experience participants, their perceived importance of CCBs was significantly correlated with their evaluation of social norms, and their perceived competency to collaborate was closely associated with their evaluation of their abilities. Yet, evaluation of social norms and ability were not associated with behavioral intention toward CCBs. The researchers concluded that for those with little experience with CCBs, environmental education should promote the social importance of CCBs and enhance these individuals’ self-confidence in participating in CCBs.

The researchers recommend that collective behaviors should be emphasized over individual behaviors among students, as the belief that individual efforts can mitigate the environmental crisis thwarts behavioral intention toward collaborative collective behaviors (CCB). To promote CCBs among students, the researchers recommend that environmental educators encourage their students’ intrigue in environmental problems and increase their intention toward CCBs. They point out that youth must be exposed to CCB opportunities that provide them meaningful experiences and demonstrate the importance of CCBs for progressing toward sustainability. The researchers conclude that educators should increase learning opportunities aimed at helping students recognize the importance of CCBs for tackling environmental problems. They note, however, that environmental education programs also need to be tailored to the degree of interest and experiences of each student.

One limitation of this study is that it analyzes specific participants and their behaviors. The behavioral model used in this survey, therefore, may not match different participants and their behaviors. Another limitation of this study is that the participants could have led on that they were more involved in pro-environmental actions than in actuality.

The Bottom Line

Environmental education (EE) has increasingly recognized the value of collective behaviors to create change around environmental issues. This study looked at the impacts of factors that affect pro-environmental collaborative collective behaviors (CCBs) among high school and undergraduate students in Japan. Results showed EE that promotes community involvement is motivational for those with a weak behavioral intention to participate in CCBs. However, for those with strong behavioral intentions, EE should emphasize the importance of CCBs for environmental change. The researchers also found that for those with rich experience in CCBs, EE should emphasize different collective pro-environmental behaviors and teach individuals about the collaboration aspect of CCBs. However, for those with little experience with CCBs, EEshould promote the social importance of CCBs and enhance these individuals’ self-confidence in participating in CCBs. The researchers recommend environmental educators cater to students' degree of interests and experiences to encourage their students’ intrigue in environmental problems and increase their intention toward CCBs.