The Influence of Habits, Opportunities and Thoughts on Environmentally Sustainable Lifestyles
Nadine Cheryl, Page
This programme of research was focused on developing a better understanding of pro-environmental behaviours and pro-environmental behaviour change, with consideration of the powerful effect of habits in thinking, affect and behaviour. Habit networks are discussed with reference to HOT topics (Habits, Opportunities and Thoughts), and explored empirically within the context of the FIT Framework (Fletcher & Stead, 2000). This programme of research started with a literature review on established models of pro-environmental behaviour. It found a large degree of similarity in the approaches used to conceptualise pro-environmental behaviour, and suggested the need to explore pro-environmental activity from different perspectives. The FIT Framework was then presented as an alternative approach. FIT variables measure the strength of an individual’s cognitive characteristics and their degree of behavioural flexibility using the FIT Profiler (Fletcher, 1999). The empirical studies presented in this programme of research suggest that levels of personal FITness are related to engagement with pro-environmental activity and the extent to which lifestyles are environmentally sustainable. Study 1 (N = 325) explored the relationships between FITness and measures of pro-environmental activity, and Study 2 (N = 134) sought to confirm these relationships in a different sample. Both studies found positive relationships between levels of personal FITness and pro-environmental activity. Based on these results, it was suggested that FIT offers a useful alternative framework to study pro-environmental activity. Studies 3 (N = 75) and 4 (N = 100) considered the performance of pro-environmental behaviours in different sites of practice, as follow-up to the differences that emerged in Studies 1 and 2. They also explored the perceived influence of intrinsic and extrinsic variables on energy saving in home and work settings. The results suggested that the pro-environmental behaviours that are performed at home are often not transferred to the workplace and this might be because extrinsic factors in an organisational setting constrain action. Higher levels of personal FITness helped to align behaviours with intrinsic beliefs; individuals with higher levels of FITness behaved as they felt they ought to, whereas individuals with lower levels of FITness behaved as they were told to. It was suggested, therefore, that higher levels of FITness might support behavioural consistency across contexts. Study 5 (N = 95) explored the extent to which pro-environmental behaviours are characterised by habit and how the strength of habit changes according to level of personal FITness. The results suggested that people act pro-environmentally within distinct behaviour categories and this has little or no bearing on their propensity to behave in an environmentally friendly way in other areas. Habits can have a positive influence on the performance of pro-environmental behaviour but a negative influence on behaviour change. The empirical results suggest that a higher level of FITness might help people to engage more readily with pro-environmental behaviours that are performed less frequently. It was, therefore, suggested that developing levels of personal FITness might help individuals to extend their behavioural repertoire and be sufficiently flexible to include more pro-environmental behaviours, including those that are, at present, characterised less by habit. A second literature review on interventions for pro-environmental behaviour change found that many techniques have been developed from the perspective of bounded rationality and have assumed that the provision of information will initiate behaviour change. These approaches are often ineffective because of the resistive effects of habit. In light of this and the findings of the empirical studies, a FIT-based behaviour change intervention, named here as Do Something Greener, was developed as an alternative approach to address directly the problem of habit. Overall, this programme of research suggests that the influence of habits, opportunities, and thoughts should be considered in the study of pro-environmental activity. Further research exploring the effectiveness of Do Something Greener for pro-environmental behaviour change is necessary and planned as the next step in this programme of research. By exploring pro-environmental behaviour from a different perspective, it is hoped that this programme of research has also challenged some of the habitual tendencies that researchers are themselves starting to develop in relation to the study of pro-environmental behaviour, and that it has added a degree of eclecticism and pragmatism to psychological approaches to pro-environmental behaviour change. It is hoped that this will help to set a more practically oriented agenda for future research.