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The Shocking Attribute that Most Influences Eco-Friendly Behavior

What Actually Influences Your Eco-Friendly Behavior? New Study Sheds Light on Being Green

A new study published in Psychological Science has revealed what researchers really believe to be the motivating factor behind eco-friendly behavior.  

Although I’ve dabbled in vegetarianism since middle school, it wasn’t until I was an adult in my early twenties that I began to adopt a permanent, more mindful way of life. What changed? Was it where I lived? Access to more information? Freedom of choice? Well, sort of.

We’re probably all aware of the family who lives, eats, and breathes sustainability. It’s in the way they cook, how they compost, and their choices as consumers. I, however, grew up very differently. We tossed our trash without a second thought, only shopped big box stores, and never bought anything organic. So how can two families living in the same country behave so vastly different in terms of eco-friendliness? The simple answer is: individualism.

If you’re anything like me, and presumably lots of other people, then you’ve probably wondered why some individuals, families, and even entire regions are more into eco-friendly behaviors and sustainable ways of life than most. While this article may not explain every possibility, there are questions surrounding the stronger levels of earth conscious behaviors seen in some areas versus others, and, according to researchers, it has to do with the distinct cultural values of the country in which you reside.

A recent article published by the Association for Psychological Science believes, “the specific cultural values of a country may determine whether concern about environmental issues actually leads individuals to engage in environmentally friendly behaviors.” The report deals with two aspects. The first is one that addresses individualistic eco-friendliness, predominantly found in Western countries, like the United States, where society focuses more strongly on individualism and self-expression. The second focuses on one that presides in collectivistic societies, like Japan, where eco-friendly behavior does not always reflect the level of concern its citizens actually have for the environment.

In other words, “findings suggest that changing personally-held beliefs, attitudes, and concerns about social issues, which is one of the most frequent strategies for behavioral change, may not guarantee corresponding change in all cultures; it is more likely to be effective in fostering people’s actions to address environmental issues in more individualistic cultural contexts,” says Kimin Eom, psychological scientist at the University of California. Furthermore, people in countries more likely to believe in conformity may strongly feel that there is a need for environmental change, but are less likely to act on it unless it has become a “movement” of sorts, where large portions of the population are all doing their part to be more eco-friendly.

So it seems that those of us who live in westernized cultures, where we are more often encouraged to speak our minds, make our own decisions, and think more freely, are considerably more likely to adopt earth conscious habits and behaviors than countries that promote and prefer conformity. I wanted to test this theory a bit further by comparing a country’s score on the individualism scale, which is measured from 0 to 100, 0 being the least, 100 being the most, to that of the country’s reported overall eco-friendliness.  

Based on Yale’s Environmental Performance Index, the World Economic Forum revealed Finland, Iceland, and Sweden as the top three environmentally friendly countries, in that order. When comparing each of these three countries to their individualism scale score, the results were surprising. Finland received a score of 63/100, Iceland earned 60/100, and Sweden came in at 71/100. To give you an idea of what the United States looks like, we came in at a whopping 91/100 and much further down on the green list. It would seem that this trio of countries is moderately higher on the individualistic scale, but drastically higher on the eco-friendly scale. With the highest score still trailing the U.S. by 20 points, which factor is responsible for the influence? Purely individualism? Collectivism? Or a little of both? 

While the study doesn’t go without discrepancies, it does begin to point researchers, policy makers, and campaign leaders in the right direction. Whether it’s culture, individualism, or some other influence, the bottom line is that it’s important to figure out exactly what that motivating factor is in order to implement the greatest change in favor of the environment. Go ahead, take that selfie at the farmers market co-op, you never know what kind of motivation you might incite.

What do you think about the research findings? What motivates you to be more eco-friendly? Share your thoughts on the EcoSalon Facebook page!

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