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Researchers Explain What Makes People Pro-Environmental

Researchers Explain What Makes People Pro-Environmental

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The HSE School of Psychology has studied the psychological, social, and political factors behind Russians’ pro-environmental behaviour. It appears that women hold more pro-environmental attitudes than men, trust in the free market negatively affects sustainable consumption, and awareness of the benefits of pro-environmental actions better motivates people to sort waste than environmental concern or connectedness to nature. The study has been published by SSRN.

Pro-environmental behaviour is a combination of individual actions based on a sense of responsibility for the possible impact of one's role in preserving nature and life on the planet. Social, psychological, political, and informational factors influence such behaviour.

Analysing the specifics of behaviour formation involves studying determinants—the variables that predetermine behaviour. To date, there have not been many studies into the specifics of pro-environmental behaviour in Russia. The HSE Environmental Psychology Research and Study Group conducted a study aimed at filling this gap in the data on the determinants of pro-environmental behaviour among Russians.

A total of 462 people participated in the online survey. Their average age was 37 years old, and 56.7% of the participants were women. Slightly more than half (56.5%) were university graduates. One third of the participants (31.2%) live in Moscow, 6.3% in St. Petersburg, and the remaining 62.8% in other Russian cities. Only 6.3% of the sample reported that their education or daily activities were related to conservation or ecology.

A 33-item scale developed for the Russian cultural context was used to measure pro-environmental behaviour. It included five main groups of behaviours: 

 personal waste management (for instance, separating waste, reducing consumption)

 social behaviour (signing petitions to protect the environment, volunteering) 

 eco-shopping (buying local produce, organic food)

 resource conservation (saving water, electricity)

 climate-related actions (replacing air travel with travel by train, giving up meat)

Respondents were asked to rate how often they do certain things on a scale of 1 (never) to 5 (always). For example: ‘I use reusable bottles, mugs, and thermoses’ or ‘I buy local produce grown within a 160 km radius.’

The researchers looked at the relationship between pro-environmental behaviour and personal and political values, environmental attitudes, motivation, and other variables.

The findings suggest that women buy sustainable products more often than men. The higher the level of education of the participants, the greater the number of environmentally conscious purchases they make. Conversely, climate-conscious behaviour was less common among higher-income individuals, who allowed themselves to choose less sustainable options (for example, travelling by plane rather than by train, buying avocados rather than local vegetables).

The researchers found that there are universal variables that predetermine all types of pro-environmental behaviour. One example is integrated regulation, a type of motivation in which performing environmental actions becomes so important to a person that they come to see such actions as part of their identity. These findings are comparable to those obtained by European and American scientists.

The researchers also found variables that could explain only certain behaviours. Notable examples include the influence of values such as trust in the free market, belief in equality, and traditional values. Trust in the free market was associated with non-environmental behaviour and low levels of energy conservation and sustainable consumption. At the same time, belief in equality increased the likelihood of socially oriented actions, and traditional values were associated with environmentally friendly consumption.

Elena Sautkina, Professor of the HSE University School of Psychology

‘Interestingly, concern for the environment and connectedness to nature are not predictors of all types of environmental behaviour. For example, whether or not a person will sort waste is more related to an understanding of how beneficial environmental actions can be, rather than to the person’s concern for the environment.’ 

Hedonistic values negatively affected the development of all groups of environmental behaviour (except saving resources), as shown by previous studies. This might be because hedonism is associated with the desire to enjoy life and the rejection of self-restraint (including the conservation of resources). Trust in the free market, hedonistic and egoistic values are often linked and express a person's desire for personal comfort and higher income, regardless of the condition of other people or the natural world. These findings are similar to the results of studies conducted in other countries.

‘The findings give a more detailed picture of the factors that influence pro-environmental behaviour among people in Russia. Very little is known about these factors so far. We plan to conduct more studies to obtain new data that will allow us to build models explaining this behaviour,’ says Elena Sautkina.

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