Sustainable Behavior: What type of people go green?

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Sustainable Behaviour - installing solar panels

There is no denying that, as a race, we need an intervention from depleting our planet’s natural resources and destroying it with our antics. And yes, people around the planet are taking proactive and defensive measures to help preserve our planet, but have you ever wondered what type of people take the extra measures to live a sustainable green lifestyle? Being able to identify what type of people are inherently inclined towards a sustainable lifestyle can be beneficial in the long run in promoting sustainable behavior.

Researcher Rune Ellemose Gulev, whose findings will be  featured in the International Journal of Sustainable Economy, tried to find out exactly that – what type of people live sustainably? The correlation test, which were done at the University of Applied Sciences in Kiel, Germany, tried to identify key traits (gender and income inequality, literacy rates, education possibilities, life expectancies and poverty alleviation) that could be linked with sustainable behavior.

The correlation test found that countries with a population that place an importance on social cohesion, tolerance and respect were also more likely to be environmental. Another correlation found was that in countries where high income was valued, so was sustainability. Surprisingly enough, countries that were focused on equality for all were less likely to practice sustainable behaviors.

Gulev told Science Daily:

“Taken holistically, the results provide clear indication that some attitudes and values in people do facilitate sustainable behavior and that these attitudes and values can be fostered to create greater sustainable behavioral practices. It is hoped that the results initiate a debate and further motivation for research into sustainable practices.”

While this study highlights what type of people go green, there are ways to increase sustainable behavior. According to Sally Uren, Deputy Chief Executive at Forum for the Future, sustainable behavior could be facilitated by labels and brands. Uren told The Guardian that “It’s naïve to believe that mainstream consumers will suddenly start demanding sustainable products. They don’t wake up one morning and decide that they need to integrate their camera with their phone, or that life will be better with aloe vera loo roll.” Labels and brands already know how to appeal to their consumer clientele, so it is not a far stretch for them to make sustainability appealing or to offer sustainable goods.

But brand labeling isn’t the only innovative way to increase sustainable behavior: Christie Manning, Ph.D. suggests, in her handbook The Psychology of Sustainable Behavior, that to increase sustainable behavior, we need to make it the social norm. According to Manning, making sustainability a norm would work “because of this biological programming, all people internalize and act on messages from other people, both explicit and implicit messages, about the kinds of behaviors expected and accepted by society.” And there’s proof too! A 2007 study found that when measuring electricity usage, people were more likely to reduce their electricity use when they were provided informational messages regarding how much their neighbors are cutting back. Essentially, they modified their behaviors to mimic their neighbors which they deemed to be “the norm.”